The essentials of safe crane operation

Crane Operator

The crane operator is the vital link in the safe accident-free performance of crane and lifting operations.

Complete co-operation between crane operators and other personnel involved is essential.

Carelessness or neglect, improper operation or failure to observe common sense safety rules can result in serious injury to both operator and others or damage to valuable machinery or property.

Written rules can never cover all situations that may arise when operating a crane. Most hazards can be avoided by the exercise of intelligence, care and common sense.

A positive attitude and behaviour towards crane safety is essential for all persons involved.

A competent crane operator is a person who has acquired through a combination of qualifications, training or experience the knowledge & skill to perform the task required.

Basic and essential requirements for crane operators include:

  • A sound knowledge and understanding of the crane being operated and the cranes approved rating chart.
  • Ability and experience to operate the crane within its rated capacities.
  • Thorough training and instruction in the fundamental principles of safe crane operating practices.
  • Operators must be alert, physically fit and free from the influences of alcohol, drugs or medications that might affect eyesight, hearing or reactions.
  • Safety must always be the operator’s most important concern. He must consult his supervisor when safety is in doubt.
  • Prior to setting up and commencing lifting operations on a new site or when approaching a new area of operation it is essential that crane operators thoroughly inspect the working area for power lines and other potential hazards.
  • Be fully conversant with the manufacturer’s operator’s manual for the crane you are operating. Be sure of its capabilities, limitations and special "personality". Do not assume that one crane will operate the same as another. Characteristics of performance may vary from one machine to another in the same model.
  • Regardless of what type of crane, parameters for operation should never be ignored, load charts must never be exceeded; load chart notes must never be overlooked and special precautionary instructions must be closely followed.

Know your equipment - prepare it for the job

  • Know its capability. When planning your operation, don’t neglect to consider potential hazards and operating limitations. If operating radius is unknown, plan your loads on the safe side of the load chart. Recognise and understand dangerous situations. Develop instinctive corrective control reaction when suddenly confronted with the unexpected.
  • Understand how to read the rating plate or chart in your crane and know that the machine can safely lift each load before attempting to lift.
  • A crane operator requires the highest degree of safety consciousness and alertness to job hazards.
  • In an industry that is changing in technology as rapidly as the crane industry the job of training is never finished. Even the most experienced operator requires constant reminding and revision.
  • Regular retraining is fundamental to increased safety and efficiency in crane operations.
  • A competent crane operator is the key to accident free performance.

Competence is a combination of knowledge, skill & experience.

Crane users or site owner

Ensure that people, equipment and material are kept out of the work area.

Crane users have a vital role to play in crane safety and accident prevention. The crane user is one who requires a crane to perform a lifting task and they may lack basic crane and lifting experience.

The crane user’s initial responsibility is to provide the crane owner/supplier with sufficient basic information to enable the correct choice of crane and associated equipment to be made and to determine whether expert supervision is required.

The crane owner/supplier must obtain from the user a clear understanding of the job to be done, site conditions, restrictions and hazards. Where there is any doubt about conditions on site it is recommended that an inspection is made by a competent and experienced supervisor.

The crane user must provide clear access to the site and an adequately prepared work area for the crane.

The correct choice of crane as to type, capacity and reach is vitally important.

Most accidents can be avoided by careful job planning. It is vital that crane users and those in charge at the site alert the crane operator and crew members of potential hazards or unusual operating conditions.

For site supervisors / riggers/ doggers

Since more and larger cranes are being used on today’s major construction sites it is increasingly necessary that all site personnel involved or in charge of crane and lifting operations be trained in the basic principles of crane safety.

Site supervisors, riggers, doggers and everyone who works around cranes must obey all warning signs and have regard for their own safety and the safety of others. The person in charge must have a clear understanding of the work to be done, consider all dangers at the site, and develop a plan to do the job safely. Explain the plan to all concerned.

Personnel setting up cranes or handling loads must know proper machine erection and rigging procedures.

The primary duty of a dogger is to assist the operator in the safe and efficient operation of the crane and the job in hand including the safe slinging of the load. When an operator’s vision is obscured or when operating in hazardous areas such as near power lines or near people, a dogger must be used. A dogger may also be necessary at other times.

A dogger must be conversant with the crane being used and the mode of operation so that each job can be safely co-ordinated with the operator and other team members. A dogger must have good vision and sound judgement, know standard crane signals and be able to give signals clearly and must have enough experience to be able to recognise hazards and signal the operator to avoid them.

A dogger must be positioned and clearly seen to safely observe the entire operation.

Crane owners & management

Crane safety is a team effort. It involves complete co-operation and communication between all personnel involved with crane and lifting operations.

Crane owners and management must be fully aware of their responsibilities in the area of crane and lifting operations, as well as any shortcomings within their own organisations.

It is the duty of management and supervisors to ensure that the men who prepare the crane and ancillary equipment, maintain it, operate it and work with or around it are well trained in both safety and operating procedures.

The responsible crane owner develops and fosters a programme of accident prevention measures including:

  • effective operator training in equipment familiarity
  • effective instruction in how to prevent crane accidents
  • effective equipment preventive maintenance.

The owner’s attitude has a tremendous impact on how "tight a ship" is run by crane personnel on the job. In companies where the boss tends to have a lax attitude towards equipment maintenance and safety, other people involved - being all too human - tend to reflect the same attitude.

Key elements in owner/management responsibility in all crane operations are:

  • Safety
  • Planning
  • Training
  • Maintenance

Cranes and equipment must be maintained in a condition that safety is not impaired.

Management has the overall responsibility for safety and supervision. Avoiding accidents begins with an aggressive and effective accident prevention programme educating all personnel in safe practices and the assignment to the crane crews of definite, individual safety responsibilities. The implementation of such a programme will reduce the possibility of accidents and also result in a more effective business organisation.

Owners and management should ensure that manufacturers’ operator’s manuals and this safety manual are made available and fully understood by crane operators and personnel involved in crane operations. Operation and maintenance manuals must be readily available to personnel in charge of the operation & maintenance of cranes.

A well-maintained crane is a safe crane; it engenders pride of ownership, confidence and job satisfaction.