By Peter Grant

On September 16, 2020, a two-crane collision in Austin, Texas, injured 22 people, sending 16 to local hospitals for treatment. According to local reports, the crash—like so many construction accidents—was likely preventable.

Crane accidents don’t happen in a vacuum. A forensic investigation of crane accidents involving struck objects has found that the root causes and contributing factors include:

  • Improper orientation.
  • Poor planning.
  • Inadequate risk management.
  • Miscommunication.
  • Operator fatigue.

Thanks to ever-more sophisticated equipment, the increasing complexity of crane operation compounds the consequences of poor planning or inadequate risk management.

Today, crane safety requires attentive tech-based solutions that can help contractors make the most of available information; however, not all tech solutions will work equally. Form builder and inspection apps can streamline operations by digitizing risk management, but they also fail to support the complex needs required for best-practice crane safety.

Here’s how contractors can use safety software to run critical operations and get the insights needed to prevent the next crane accident.

Use Tech to Run Rigorous Crane Inspections

Today’s cranes are more sophisticated than the machines found on sites twenty or thirty years ago. Because more can go wrong and failures come with harsher consequences, rigorous inspections are essential.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s OSHA regulation 1926.1412(f)(1) requires you to inspect every active crane at least once a year, and crane owners must maintain records of each inspection. The OSHA annual inspection requires disassembly and a full audit of the entire machine, not just the moving parts. You can run this inspection and store it within your safety software to compare each year’s results.

While the annual inspection is critical, you should be inspecting the operating functions daily—before use—including the rigging systems (hooks, hoist chains, nylon ropes, etc.).

In addition to the crane itself, contractors need to run a site inspection before using the crane. The most powerful crane operated by the most experienced operator is only as stable as the conditions beneath it. Uploading daily site inspections and noting any uncompacted fill, potentially unstable surfaces or utilities will help you run a safer day-to-day operation by empowering operators to understand exactly what’s underneath them before they get in the cab.

Industry professionals can also upload and manage load charts and rigging, in addition to completing a daily inspection to ensure rigging only uses the allowable load. Doing so will ward off overloading if technology isn’t installed and will also give operators a sense of what to expect if someone does go over the permissible load.

Safety management software allows contractors to upload inspections, audits and checklists unique to each crane type or site! Create your own or request inspections on:

  • General crane operations.
  • OSHA 1910.179 Crane Inspection.
  • Cable wear.
  • Rigging equipment.
  • Lifting workers.
  • Work zone safety.

Record Safety Observations

One of the challenges facing crane operation is that safety is heavily dependent on conditions that change day-to-day. A crane operator must account for everything from temperature to precipitation, and they need to record when these conditions change.

Safety software, such as Safesite, records observations like wind speed, snow and site conditions. Supervisors can also use it to record positive safety behaviors, such as a crane operator waiting for employees to move before lifting a load or workers carefully following safe paths to avoid walking underneath a crane.

Other observations include:

  • Wearing the correct general PPE.
  • Consulting the crane load chart.
  • Clearing the ground beneath the load.
  • Reviewing checklists or inspections before operating.
  • Using NSI hand signals.

Manage Crane Training, Evaluations and Certifications

Every one of today’s cranes come with a library of instructions. Yet, operator error is at the root of many crane accidents, including collapses. 

OSHA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers also provide specific guidance around training depth and frequency for crane operators and signalers. OSHA requires operator certification by “type, or type and capacity.” Crane operators also need to pass employer training and evaluation before operating a crane. Employers need to document all of these evaluations. There aren’t any refresher training obligations noted for crane operators , which also applies to riggers and signal persons.

Remember that companies subcontracting crane work can still bear responsibility for a subcontractor’s failure to follow federal or state OSHA standards.

After the 2019 Seattle crane collapse, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry investigated five companies involved with the site, including the general contractor, subcontractors and crane’s owner.

General contractors should ask for certifications, proof of training and proof of insurance from all subcontractors. They should also be ready to verify and provide such proof to inspectors and other stakeholders. Safety software can be used to track safety certifications, including a subcontractors’ crane operator certifications and evaluations, so that contractors know which certifications apply to which operators, as well as when they need to go back for more education.

Prevent Crane Accidents and Keep Workers Safe

Cranes have come a long way over the last few decades. As they become more sophisticated, however, the potential danger is increased if everyone onsite isn’t on the same page.

From managing certifications to identifying dangerous fill composition, there is an incredible number of factors at play in crane safety, so contractors need a robust safety management system that supports crane safety actions, records and communication.

About Peter Grant

Peter Grant is the founder and CEO of Safesite, an award-winning safety management SaaS built to level-up productivity, efficiency, and accuracy. His experience working as a civil engineer in project management for large commercial contractors motivated him to use mobile technology to reduce the frequency of workplace incidents and deaths. That goal has driven Grant’s strategic decisions for Safesite, which has grown from a mobile app to a robust safety management solution. Read more on the Safesite blog.