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Cranes are essential tools in the construction industry given their ability to lift and move heavy loads and objects at construction sites and at material suppliers’ locations. Despite their usefulness, cranes can be extremely dangerous if employees are not properly trained to operate and/or to work around them. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 297 crane-related deaths between 2011 and 2017—or an average of 42 deaths a year over that time period. 

OSHA attempted to address this grim reality through its November 2018 revision to the Crane and Derricks Standard contained in Part 1926 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Following this revision, 1926.1427(a) now requires that employers ensure all crane operators performing construction are certified by a nationally-recognized accrediting agency. Crane operator must be certified by the type of cranes they will operate. Furthermore, employers must evaluate each crane operator to ensure that they are qualified by a demonstration of the skills and knowledge necessary to operate the crane safely and the employee’s ability to recognize and avoid risks associated with the crane’s operation. The employer’s evaluation must be documented and maintained for as long as the crane operator is an active employee.

Employers should also train their employees on the requirements for safe rigging and hand signaling necessary to move loads in a safe manner. The training should consist of a classroom component as well as a skills-based, hands-on component to ensure employees working around cranes are adequately trained and protected. The employer should conduct routine audits to ensure employees are working safely and adhering to the employer’s safety rules and trainings. If deficiencies are discovered, the employer should enforce its rules and trainings through the appropriate levels of disciplinary action. 

In addition to construction employers complying with the above certification, training and evaluation requirements, they should generally follow these tips and best practices to work safely around cranes. 

Select the Right Equipment for the Job

It goes without saying that the beginning of a safe work environment is having the appropriate equipment and safety gear for the job. This is also true with cranes. Selecting a crane that has the requisite capacity rating for the job is paramount. Moreover, considerations of the needs of the jobsite and the terrain may impact the selection of the type of crane that will be best suited to safely perform the work, e.g., fixed-crane versus a mobile or crawler crane. 

Know What is Overhead

When operating a crane, the operator and surrounding employees should always be aware of potential overhead hazards – particularly electrical power lines. Contact with electric current has previously comprised approximately 8% of all crane-related deaths. Standard 1926.1408 requires employers to assess hazards related to such overhead power lines and generally requires that the employer demarcate the work zone with flags or boundaries to prevent the operator from straying from the work area near recognized hazards.

Have a Proper Base for Operating

Controlling employers must also ensure that ground conditions are firm, drained and graded to sufficient extent in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications for adequate support of the crane and degree of level of the equipment. Having an uneven, soft or improperly graded terrain could lead to exposure from tip-over hazards or potentially cause the shifting of suspended loads.

Know What is Underneath the Load and Around the Crane

Approximately half of all crane-related deaths occurred because a worker was struck by an object or equipment, and approximately 60% of those deaths were because the worker was struck by a falling object. Given these risks, employers must ensure that all employees are given adequate training to understand the warning lines, or markers, relating to prohibited areas of entry and travel when a crane is in operation. Likewise, employees conducting crane inspections should alert the operator and signal persons and ensure the crane is not operational before entering restricted areas. Under no circumstances should employees stand or work below a suspended load. 

Conduct Routine Equipment Checks and Maintenance

OSHA generally requires that all active cranes must be inspected at least once per year. However, OSHA also requires that the employers conduct daily inspections of the operating mechanisms for cranes. This includes, but may not be limited to, the parts of their air or hydraulic systems, and the hooks and chains used to hoist objects or materials. These inspections must be performed by a competent person. Employers should diligently maintain these daily inspection logs as doing so will provide the necessary proof that they were conducted should there ever be an OSHA enforcement action.

Section 1926.1412 generally covers the areas OSHA requires to inspect, and the frequency of period inspections that are required in addition to the daily inspections discussed above. Employers should take care to study the provision and follow the recommended schedule of inspection which include inspection of safety devices; operator cab windows and doors; wires, ropes and rigging equipment; and parts such as pins, shafts, gears and rollers.

Repairs and required maintenance should be performed upon identifying the worn or broken parts, and such maintenance and repair should be diligently documented by the employer.

Finally, while this article has focused generally on Part 1926’s requirements for cranes engaged in construction work, employers should be aware that they may be subject to the requirements of Part 1910 for cranes, hoists and monorail trucks that are not engaged in “construction work.” 

What OSHA considers to be “construction work” versus “non-construction work” is not always clear. As such, employers who have operations that utilize cranes but that are not necessarily directly engaged in work on an actual construction site (i.e. mobile-home manufacturers using cranes at their manufacturing site and/or precast/prestressed concrete companies making materials that will transported to a construction site) may wish to consult competent legal counsel to determine whether they are subject to the requirements of the construction industry crane standards in Part 1926, or some other standard.

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