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Dos and Don’ts for Crane Operators

Dos and Don’ts for Crane Operators

Crane operators need to know how to operate safely and prevent accidents. 

  • Every operator should be familiar with their crane’s anatomy to help them perform inspections.
  • Crane operators need to be familiar with safety procedures. 
  • Proper training is one of the best ways to prevent accidents in the workplace. 

Overhead cranes are called such because they are generally used to move large, bulky, or very heavy items overhead. However, while they are very useful, overhead cranes are not without their dangers. Studies show that each year, an average of 25 workers are involved in accidents involving overhead cranes, half of which are fatal. 

Crane Assembly and Anatomy

Overhead cranes come in a variety of shapes and designs, yet their basic anatomy is consistent. You should be familiar with the following list of parts when you operate overhead cranes.

  • Hoist Unit and Hook: The hoist unit is the lifting mechanism on the overhead crane. With a hook to attach to the object that needs to be hoisted, this device is made of either chain or wire rope.
  • Bridge Beam and Columns: The hoist unit travels along the bridge beam while carrying a load. In most cases, this bridge beam spans the width of the overhead crane system, while columns support it from the sides. The height and overhead clearance of the crane are also determined by the columns.
  • Control Cubicle and Unit: The unit that powers the hoist and other parts is the control cubicle. However, the device an operator actually uses to operate the crane is known as the control unit. Depending on the manufacturer, control units come in two different forms: radio controls and pendant controls.
  • Power Feed System: Overhead cranes receive and manage power for lifting operations through the power feed system. 
  • End Carriages: The crane bridge beam’s ability to move forward and backward down the runway beams is made possible by the end carriages.
  • Travel Motors: Travel motors are the devices that cause the crane components to move. These motors are found on the end carriages.
  • Runway Beams and Trolley: Runway beams are the beams the crane components travel on. The trolley unit has wheels that make movement along the runway beams easier.

Overhead Crane Operation

What Are the 3 Most Common Crane Accidents?

Despite one’s best efforts, accidents involving cranes happen every day. Of all the accidents that do take place, the three most common are crane overloading, swinging loads, and getting struck by dropped loads. 

Crane Overloading and Collapse

There are many factors that could lead to a crane collapse. For example, many crane collapses are the result of setting up the crane on a surface that is uneven, unstable, or icy. Another main factor in a crane collapse is that the crane gets overloaded from hoisting a load with a weight that exceeds the crane’s load capacity. Overloading and collapse can also result from hoisting a load that is off-center, which causes it to swing or drop suddenly. Overloading a crane in any capacity can lead to significant stress on the crane’s operating components and may damage them beyond repair.

Swinging Loads and Collisions

Side pulling—also known as side-loading or an off-center pick—occurs when an operator rigs the hoist unit to the load incorrectly, leading to a lift that detracts from a vertical position. Though it may seem small, this happens simply because the hoist wasn’t centered over the load. An off-center hoist causes the load to swing towards its center of gravity, which puts the crane at risk of being overloaded and collapsing. An off-center hoist also puts nearby workers in danger of being struck by a dropped load. 

Struck by crane loads

There are several causes for struck-by incidents during crane operations. Generally, it’s because the load is not completely secured in its rigging and falls out while being loaded, in transit, or being unloaded. Other times, the load could be completely secured but will hit someone while the crane is moving. Other factors also contribute such as: vision impairment, two-blocking, mechanical failure, or operator incompetence. Whatever the cause, struck-by accidents are a serious concern in the workplace.

Operating a Crane Safely

A lot goes into operating an overhead crane. With these common accidents in mind, we’ve provided a list to give you an idea of the things you should do—or not do—to operate an overhead crane safely:

  1. Read up on applicable safety standards for cranes. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has standards for crane operation as well as for topics that relate to overhead cranes, such as rigging. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have additional standards for crane safety. 
  2. Become familiar with your crane’s operating controls, as well as other procedures. Manufacturing companies may design overhead cranes in a similar way, but that is no guarantee that their controls will be the same across different brands. Read and understand your crane’s manufacturing instructions and operator’s manual. Receiving training can help you understand the basics of operating an overhead crane, but any specific questions you may have about your crane, such as controls, can be found in the operator’s manual. 
  3. Make sure the hook travels in the same direction as the controls. This will help ensure smooth operation and avoid confusion. In addition, make sure hoist limit switches and other controls function properly. If they do not, make sure they are repaired before lifting procedures begin.
  4. Do not lift loads that exceed the hoisting unit’s load capacity. Doing so will damage or break the hoisting components. Furthermore, do not begin lifting operations until the load is properly centered under the hoist. This will prevent the load from swinging while it’s suspended. Whenever you operate the hoist, keep a firm footing to prevent injuries from trips or falls.
  5. Before lifting and hoisting operations begin, check that you are using the correct sling size. You should also make sure slings are situated properly in the hook saddle. Both of these practices will help ensure that hoisting will go smoothly, and the load won’t slip out and drop. Avoid lifting a load until you are sure the wire rope or chain is seated properly in the hook. If binding prohibits equal loading on all supporting ropes and chains, do not lift the load.
  6. Use hook latches at every possible opportunity. Inspect them thoroughly prior to use to make sure they will remain closed while in use. 
  7. Make sure the load will have enough clearance while in transit. If the load hits an obstruction, then the load and its rigging may become damaged and unusable. It may become unstable in the rigging and could become a falling object hazard, as well. Additionally, don’t allow the hoist to come into sharp contact with another hoist or an obstruction; this will cause damage that will make hoisting unsafe. 
  8. Prior to following through hoisting operations, carefully remove the slack, make sure the load is balanced, and move it a few inches to make sure the load is secure. Move the load slowly to prevent it or the hook from swinging. 
  9. Warn fellow employees and pedestrians nearby of the suspended load so they can clear the area. That way, if the load were to fall, no one would be struck by it. Never lift or transport loads over other people and don’t allow anyone to pass under or work beneath the suspended load as both situations put people at risk of being struck by a falling object. Never leave a load suspended without supervision.
  10. Do not allow yourself to become distracted while operating the hoist. Distractions include phones, coworkers, or getting lost in thought. 
  11. Perform regular inspections of the hoisting components, preferably at the start of every shift. If anything is worn or damaged, record it in your inspection report and replace the damaged parts immediately. In addition, retain maintenance records for future reference. 
  12. Report issues—such as malfunctions, damage, or anything else unusual— to the hoisting unit or any of its accompanying components right away. Do not use the hoisting unit until it has been repaired or replaced. Take measures to protect the wire rope and load chain from damage, including weld splatter.  
  13. Never use wire ropes or chains that are twisted, kinked, damaged, or worn in any way. If you do, you risk the wire rope or chain breaking under the stress of the load. Do not use a broken or malfunctioning hoist; replace it if there is something wrong with the hoist. 
  14. If parts of the crane do need to be repaired or replaced, only use parts that the manufacturer recommends. More importantly, do not attempt repairs yourself if you are not qualified to do so; always let a qualified person adjust or repair a hoist. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for lubricating the wire rope or load chain.
  15. Never lift or transport people with the hoist. Hoists are not designed for that purpose and will put the individual at risk of injury or death.

What Can You Not Do With Overhead Cranes?

Overhead cranes are useful for hoisting and transporting large, heavy, or bulky loads. Many of the “don’ts” covered in the previous list are things you should not do while operating an overhead crane. Most notably, do not use an overhead crane to move or transport people. As we mention, the reason you should not do this is that overhead cranes are not designed for that purpose, so there would be no way to guarantee anyone’s safety. 

Additional Safety Precautions

One of the best ways to stay safe while operating an overhead crane is to become a certified overhead crane operator. The Hard Hat Training Series offers an Overhead Crane Course that is online, so you can take it at your own pace and on your own time. 

Besides training, here are some other safety precautions you can take:

Be Aware of Nearby Electrical Sources

This includes powerlines, transformers, cables, and any tools or machinery that require a power source. While operating an overhead crane, make sure the runway doesn’t have any obstructions and that the hoist unit and the load won’t come in contact with any kind of electrical source. In addition, make sure you follow proper lockout/tagout procedures when performing maintenance on the overhead crane. 

Maintain Constant Communication

As a crane operator, it’s important that you remain in constant communication with your signaler, and vice versa. This communication can take place via radio or through hand signals. Prior to lifting operations, take time to establish who will be the signalperson and follow all the signals and directions they convey to you. 

Perform Routine Inspections

Accidents that result from mechanical failure are usually preventable with routine inspections. It’s recommended that you conduct inspections on your overhead crane every day at the beginning of your shift. This gives you an opportunity to find and fix problems with your machine before they lead to life-threatening situations. 

Wear PPE

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is another way you can stay safe during overhead crane operations. General PPE you are recommended to wear includes a hard hat, safety glasses, ear protection, work gloves, a high-visibility vest, and safety-toed boots. In addition to wearing PPE on the worksite, be sure to dress according to the weather. Doing so will help protect you from illnesses that may result from extreme heat or cold.