Every year, there are hundreds of injuries, thousands of accidents, and an average of 44 crane-related deaths. It's imperative that you do everything you can to protect yourself, your crew, and any subcontractors you may have on the job site.
Better safe than sorry is the name of the game when it comes to safety around lifting operations. As Frick & Frack have pointed out, everyone on your team must be well-trained and properly certified before working with any sort of lifting operation.
Cranes are an obvious example of the tools used for these types of operations, but loaders, forklifts, boom platforms, ropes, slings, hooks, shackles, softeners, and more are all part of the lifting picture. Whether you are the project's general contractor or a crew member, knowing how to properly and safely use these pieces of equipment can help your team avoid the three main reasons a lifting operation can go wrong: electrical hazards, overloading the crane, and unsecured loads.
Beginning Your Lifting Operation
When you consider your team's safety, the best place to start is by making sure relevant workers have been properly trained and certified before stepping onto the work site. Consult guidelines from OSHA including their crane operation-specific page, and make sure everyone involved has been trained in the operation of the equipment and for securing loads that will be lifted.
As the general contractor, you should create a Site-Specific Safety Plan in conjunction with subcontractors that contains a list of hazards and concerns. It covers all phases of safety on a construction site including crane operation, and it should include requirements or concerns from the owner or the design team. These risks should be assessed during the drafting of the contract documents, and it's important for them to be available for review before people arrive on the job site.
Additionally, make sure the lift director, lift operator, crane hands, and qualified riggers are available before project commencement to discuss crane location, lifting zones, crane radius, and communications (including hands-free radio and ANSI hand signals).
OSHA Lifting Operation Fatalities: Below are just a sample of fatalities listed by OSHA in 2017 and 2018 that involved cranes.
- Maryland: Worker in crane basket died when boom arm suddenly retracted.
- Texas: Worker fatally struck by pipe and crane outrigger.
- Kansas: Worker fatally struck by load that fell from crane.
- Vermont: Worker electrocuted when crane boom contacted power line.
Site Planning and Preparation
Before your lifting equipment arrives, assess the bearing strength of the ground and soil, and identify sub-surface hazards. This may require the council of a geotechnical engineer, or the use of a hand-held Dynamic Cone Penetrometer. This device, which is relatively inexpensive, measures the underlying soil’s resistance to penetration (strength).
If the ground is wet, allow time for the soil to dry before work begins. You may also need to improve the ground by compaction or supplementing un-compacted surface layers with dense organic or inorganic materials.
While the ground surface is extremely important, some of the top crane hazards involve above-ground factors such as power lines, obstructions in the exclusion zone, and wind. When the work zone is identified and marked, the project team should determine if any part of the equipment or load will get closer than 20 feet to power lines less than 350 kV (10 feet in some cases depending on the kilovolts). If the load or crane does get within 20 feet, there are encroachment prevention precautions that must be followed. OSHA and the local utility company have guidelines that need to be followed.
And, always make sure everyone is using the correct PPE.
Steps to Lowering Risk
Lifting operations are not a simple task and involve a variety of trained professionals, safety checks, technical precautions, and more. We encourage you to do the proper risk assessment and follow OSHA standards about the use of cranes, derricks, and other lifting machinery. Below are some quick steps to help you lower your risk while involved with a lifting operation.
Have the right trained and certified team onsite – Before work begins, make sure a certified safety advisor audits the worksite and that proper safety indicators are present. Everyone that operates static or mobile equipment needs to be trained and certified to operate that specific machinery. Additionally, every person responsible for securing loads for lifting, as well as supervisors, must be properly trained in lifting operations before work begins. It’s also important to train workers on the ground – even if they are not involved with the lifting operation – to stay out of the exclusion zone which keeps people a safe distance from the crane.
Secure the load – Any sort of lifting accident can quickly become fatal if the load isn’t secured with the appropriate rigging method. Basket, choker, and vertical hitching are all different sling and hitch configurations that can be used depending on the type of lift required, and they all should be marked with a rated capacity tag. If not calculated properly, the weight of the material being lifted along with the angle can cause materials to fall.
Avoid overloading – Intended use, size and type of load, and the surrounding environment are all important factors that play into how an operator selects the method to lift. It's important that you choose the correct one as overloading a crane can cause it to tip over, collapse, or drop the load. The crane’s load chart is a starting point to determine if your lift will be safe, but operators should use a load management system or a rated capacity limiter to prevent overloading. Other factors that can increase your chance of overload include wind, side loads, the use of wheels, and the actual weight of the rigging.
Change Your Company's Safety Culture
Safety starts with you on the job site; when you notice carelessness in your work environment, you can lead by example. There are many ways to make construction safety a priority, and we cover them all with our extensive safety content.