Legislation and change

09 May 2008

The crane industry in Australia is very strong. Tower cranes dominate the skylines of major cities and regional centres along the east coast. Mobile cranes are busy in all sectors as the benefits of a strong economy driven by the worldwide demand for natural resources, for example, iron ore and bauxite continues. Recent changes to the political landscape also promise to see major infrastructure projects flourish over coming years.

Queensland is Australia’s second largest state and the fastest growing. The physical landscape varies from some of the most beautiful coastline in the world, including the famous Great Barrier Reef, through to arid areas suitable only for light agricultural grazing. What lies beneath the ground, however, is driving large investments in both private and public construction, road, rail and shipping infrastructure as well as industry-specific projects, for example, new mines and expansion of existing plants.

Such growth is expected to continue, crane utilisation has been high and is forecast to rise even higher. The range of crane owners, from hire companies and construction companies, face similar problems found worldwide. There is a long waiting list for new cranes and forecasting what machines will be required in two or three years’ time is definitely for the strong hearted.

In law

With such high demand placed on cranes, the legislation covering cranes and their safe operation needs to evolve in line with the industry. Within the ranges of governments, both at national and state level, there are numerous applicable laws, standards, guidelines and recommendations that all need to be adhered to by any crane-owning company. In the state of Queensland crane owners have asked government for a move from performance-based legislation to a more prescriptive type of regulation.

IC was fortunate recently to spend some time with Michael Chan, chief safety engineer, and engineer Stuart Davis, both at Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ), to discuss changes being introduced regarding the assessments to determine the continued safe operation of cranes that are approaching the end of their design life.

Under national standards and state laws, all tower cranes and mobile cranes with a rated capacity greater than 10 tonnes must be registered as an item of plant. Annual inspections, 10 year mechanical and 25 year structural inspections all slightly vary from state to state. It is this area that the WHSQ department has moved on to bring more clarity to inspection benchmarks for major inspections.

WHSQ has, in conjunction with mobile and tower crane industry groups, introduced a code of practice dealing with mobile cranes and tower cranes. These codes, plus regulatory requirements, set out the relevant steps a crane owner needs to make to comply with the law. Those crane-owning companies that cannot provide evidence that each particular crane has undergone specific inspections will find that as of 1/2/08, that crane will not be registered in Queensland, until it complies.

These new regulations offer a clearer understanding of what each crane needs to be inspected for at each of the annual and 10-year inspections. In Queensland there is now a requirement to carry out major inspections at 10-year intervals. It is expected that structural and control system issues will be assessed along with mechanical items at these 10-yearly intervals.

There is, of course, the ongoing need for the crane to be continually assessed for safe use between the 10-yearly intervals. Each step of the testing refers back to the manufacturer’s recommendations and also takes into account the actual tasks that the crane has been used for. The 10-year inspection includes some stripping of components to inspect internal items that cannot be verified unless it is opened for inspection. Keeping good records relating to the use and servicing of the crane is emphasised as being very important.

“Those crane-owning companies that cannot provide evidence that each particular crane has undergone specific inspections will find that, as of 1/2/08, that crane will not be registered in Queensland until it complies.”

Stating competency

The regulations state that a “competent person• must supervise that all the requirements of the inspection are met. This competent person is defined as a person who has acquired through training, qualification, experience or a combination of these, the knowledge and skill enabling that person to correctly perform the required task. For the 10-year major inspection, a qualified engineer must oversee and sign off the inspection process. WHSQ recommends careful selection of an appropriate competent person, who will be able to use his or her experience and the service records of the crane to best comply with the Code of Practice. The Crane Industry Council of Australia (CICA) more simply states, “Don’t hire a pastry chef to do the job.”

It is the role of WHSQ to not only legislate, but also to enforce the legislation. To this extent, random auditing of compliance levels, including the competence of the people involved in the testing, the quality of the inspection reports and the compliance with the inspection principles specified by the crane manufacturer, have been conducted and will continue to do so.

Cranes that are less than 10 years old and imported into Queensland, either internationally or nationally, will also need to comply. A 10-year test may need to be carried out on these machines if the previous operating and service records do not provide enough evidence of compliance.

As noted in IC December 2007, p 43, by Mark Lawrence, Boom Logistics CEO, there is a need for more uniformity in regulations across the different states of Australia. WHSQ is aiming to be proactive in increasing compliance with the appropriate Australian Standards. So far it has done so by using the knowledge of several bodies around the world. By learning from some of the CE certification procedures and applying them as suitable to Australian Standards and also the country’s unique conditions, the process of compliance with legislation, crane maintenance and inspections, as well as ensuring the continued safe operation of cranes, should be less of a mystery in the future.

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