Higher profile for crane safety

By Alex Dahm06 April 2009

In the last couple of years the welfare of those working with cranes has become a much higher profile concern around the world. Euan Youdale rounds up some of the actions that regulators and crane companies are taking to make the industry safer.

In the US, New York City buildings commissioner Robert LiMandri has announced a series of changes in the way "high-risk" construction will be regulated and carried out.

The changes are based on 41 recommendations developed during the unprecedented US$4 million study of crane, hoist, excavation, and concrete operations launched last year in response to an increase in construction accidents.

The recommendations target a range of issues, from crane design standards to engineering plans for excavation sites, to inspection protocols and training.

The Department of Buildings (DOB) will implement the recommendations over the next few months.

"This groundbreaking study is the type of critical evaluation that is necessary to ensure a new standard of safety is implemented across the city, one that the public demands and deserves," said LiMandri. "The city's economy depends on construction, and New Yorkers are depending on us to make that construction safe."

The recommendations are based on information gathered during nearly 600 job site visits and 12 outreach meetings with more than 95 stakeholder organisations, as well as DOB safety conferences with crane manufacturers and building officials from cities around the world.

The study, carried out by CTL Engineers and Construction Technology Consultants, included 269 crane and hoist inspections, input from 10 major tower and mobile crane manufacturers and hundreds of interviews with those who own, rent and work with cranes and hoists. This information was used to develop 22 specific recommendations to strengthen inspection protocols, enhance equipment and performance standards, improve field operations and raise maintenance and repair standards for cranes and hoists.

They include enforced tracking systems for critical crane parts, comprehensive inspections of cranes, new requirements for older equipment and more operational transparency.

Eastern progress

In the Middle East Brian Green, heavy crane manager at Al Faris Equipment Rentals based in the UAE, said crane safety standards in the region are at 50 to 60% of the Western European level.

"It is coming along slowly but surely, everyone is getting into the safety way of thinking and working but it will take time. The principality has set rules and regulations for the testing of cranes and operators, and most sites now require certification for everything," Green comments.

"There is a lot to learn here. Most of the operators here are Asian in origin and people try to bring in Western style management and it takes time to adapt the system. We will have to be patient, but it will come," Green adds.

Al Faris has its own in-house training programme for operators, riggers and banksmen, which is assessed by a third part regulator.

"Over the last five years things have changed a lot. We have been given guidelines, meaning requirements have changed and we have had to go along with this if we want to work with the big construction and oil companies. We are told the required standard then we are audited," Green adds.

"It will be five to seven years before we can say confidently this is a safe place to work. Everyday we hear of something happening and that's got to change. We obviously try to minimise any chance of an accident happening. If we treat our operators correctly they will be able to serve our customers better," says Green.

Tower debate

Calls for tower register

In the UK the Construction Plant-hire Association's (CPA) new Plant Safety Group has investigated the need for a national register of tower cranes, which was called for by UK members of parliament (MPs).

In 2007 the Government Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Select Committee said it was very concerned at the number of incidents and fatalities involving tower cranes and other plant on construction sites. It called for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to "urgently bring forward proposals such as a national register of plant, including ownership, age, design type, date of last inspection and other relevant factors."

In July 2008, the official Government response to the select committee was published. "The government shares the Committee's concern about tower crane safety but does not consider that a national register is the best way forward. Establishment and maintenance of such a register would be burdensome and unlikely to have the desired effect."

Nonetheless, the Select Committee remained concerned and tabled an official question in Parliament to the Secretary of State, Lord McKenzie, asking what his department planned to do about it. He replied that the HSE and the construction industry were already taking steps to improve tower crane safety and that bodies like the CPA were working to improve industry guidance.

The Select Committee, however, continued its call for a register. As a result the Secretary of State asked the HSE to revisit the issue, which, in turn, asked for industry input.

The CPA Plant Safety Group is now looking at the issue again and will report its findings. An official Government decision will then be made.

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