Catch up with your training needs
By Alex Dahm03 March 2009
Mike Parnell, ITI president, says that although overhead crane operations often involve one to two people in small facilities or designated work bays, there are still potential hazards.
"There is always a risk of losing a load due to a poor rigging method or by the load contacting an obstruction. When an overhead crane traverses multiple bays and the load travels past numerous employees, the risk goes up."
When it comes to mobile cranes the dangers are greater, mainly because the environment can differ greatly from one job to the next, adds Parnell. "The seat time required for an operator to become proficient at snatching or damping a load swing, when a boom can extend from 10 m to 50 m, can be tremendous. A harsher reality related to mobile cranes is the extent of damage that can occur if a crane tips over or collapses. It is unusual for a mobile crane accident to occur without a lifelong injury, death or multiple casualties associated with it."
According to Parnell, there are about 100,000 mobile cranes at work in the US. By comparison, there are more than 500,000 overhead and gantry cranes in operation each day. "Assume 100,000 mobile cranes x 10 lifts per day x 250 days/yr = 250,000,000 lifts per year, with some cranes nearly idle and some very busy. Then assume 500,000 overhead cranes x 15 lifts per day x 250 days/yr = 1,875,000,000 lifts per year. So is training important? Yes, for both categories."
Parnell is adamant that the employer is crucial in helping to minimize the risks. "One factor that an employer can influence is having employees exposed to proper methodology, built by classroom and hands-on training. When good traits are developed, the risk will be reduced."
The need for companies to compete means training and qualifications are often viewed as a luxury, adds Parnell. "This inadequate view can lead to a high risk and often hazardous workplace."
The only positive to be taken from recent well-documented crane and rigging accidents in the US is that people are beginning to understand the risks. "There is a grassroots movement to push for state, if not federal, certification requirements for mobile and tower crane operators. What was hoped to be a voluntary approach has been turned into a soon-to-be mandatory certification.
The crane operating recommendations proposed by the C-DAC negotiated rulemaking group was on the back burner until 2008. With the near hysterical reaction to crane accidents these last few years, these recommendations that call for operator certification will become a reality in the near future," explains Parnell.
This is expected to result in more classroom and hands-on training being put in place. "It appears that we will see construction mobile and tower crane operator certification as a full requirement in the US in the next five to eight years," says Parnell.
UK-based Turner Training Services provides operator training for tower, crawler and wheeled mobile cranes, and tutors slingers, signallers, appointed persons, crane supervisors, hoist operators and tower crane erecters.
"It is true of all crane [types] that basic training is inadequate through no one's fault in particular. The Construction Plant Certification Scheme (CPCS) can only do what the industry wants them do," says Ken Turner, examiner and instructor.
Changes were made to the CPCS criteria in August 2008. Now, anyone can be trained anywhere in the UK, but the final qualifying test - verbal and practical - must take place at an accredited training centre. These centres have to comply with set standards, including a 15 x 15 m working area for compact cranes and a 30 x 30 m area for mobile cranes.
Some machinery, such as crawler cranes and hoists, are either too big for the centres or too expensive to transport and are, therefore, classed as ‘on-site'. Some on-site testers use video evidence for their records and CPCS monitors may visit at any time.
"There have, understandably, been casualties and misunderstandings. For example, some centres that did not have adequate facilities or were a few metres short of the specified area may no longer test on some or all of their previous categories."
However, in Turner's view UK training standards do not go far enough. He suggests more hands-on training is required, along with a probationary period. "Most companies say they do that but most do not, or do one day, or half a day. You cannot substitute onsite training."
While operators are, at least, required to be trained in the type of crane they will be using, slinger signallers are not. "We give them the very minimum basic training, usually with a small mobile crane. Then they are qualified to work with a tower crane and give instructions to an operator working blind. Despite numerous requests over many years, the construction industry will not consider endorsements that would limit the activities of new slingers and specify their experience."
Turner continues: "senior management needs to wake up. There is no disputing that a lot of money has been spent promoting safety and that wonderful improvements have been the result. However, one does not have to be a genius, a troublemaker or a militant to see that when it suits, management will turn a blind eye. I know of a site where the anemometers were removed from the tower cranes and another where the appointed person had decided to stop the cranes from working but management ordered them back to work."
There were 72 deaths in the UK construction industry in 2008, which should have been avoided, says Turner. "I would think the UK is one of the best as far as training goes, but unfortunately we have stagnated. It should be getting better but there is no money available."
Thomas R Barth at Barth Crane Inspections, in the US, says there are similar concerns in his country. "Here in the United States our crane training program is falling through the cracks," he says.
For example the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published data on crane electrocutions, which showed there were about 2,300 injuries per year in the US, including some 115 deaths and 200 disabilities.
"In my crane accident investigations, I find it to be 95% human error," says Barth. "A company can purchase a 150 tonne hydraulic crane from Germany. That company will offer you, along with the purchase, a representative and a full week of training. A year later you decide to sell the crane. The company that purchases the crane puts their operator in the seat with his one month old certification that says he is a crane operator - he has just passed a written test and a couple hours of training on a 20 tonne yard crane. This is a good example of an accident waiting to happen."
In his experience as a crane accident consultant, Barth says he has come across operators who do not know regulations exist. He has also met licensed operators who could not read load charts or answer simple questions based on them. Additionally, some did not know that an operator's manual should be in the crane at all times.
"Here in the United States we are due an established national crane operator program that works, one that establishes levels of competence by an impartial agency and includes safety training with continual rectification," says Barth.