When It Comes to Crane Safety, It’s Not Safety First but Safety Always

By Marko Kaar | November 16, 2008

Recognize Challenges, Develop a Plan and Start an Effective Crane Management System


Recent crane incidents throughout the United States and around the world are attracting increased media attention to craning operations.

The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently proposed new rules for craning operations. In addition, some states and municipalities are making attempts to increase licensing requirements, in some cases mandating insurance coverages.

The existing crane safety rules have been in place for nearly 40 years, and company owners are seeking information on how the new requirements, if implemented, will affect their current day-to-day operations. Company owners also want to know how they can improve their risk management and training procedures to help prevent incidents, while ensuring they comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws.

While having educated and experienced crane operators is important, training is just one part of the puzzle in providing solutions for a safer and potentially more productive, efficient and profitable industry.

New Approach to Safety

There are systemic problems in the construction industry that are allowing these incidents to occur, and Zurich decided to use its industry experience to create a fresh approach to help solve this puzzle.

While, there are no silver bullets to guarantee against incidents occurring, Zurich believes owners and managers of craning companies should focus on managing their operations with a best practice approach instead of simply aiming to comply with the latest regulations. It advocates a “compliance plus” approach — not only implementing regulations but embracing further changes to improve safety and take a longer term view of profitability.

In the past, improved safety has been considered a cost, but Zurich’s view is that with a focus on the investment side of safety, with an expected return as opposed to the perception that safety costs can’t be recouped, crane-using or crane-owning construction companies across North America will be much more successful in the long run.

Best Practices

With the goal of helping craning operations understand how they can prevent future incidents, Zurich recently hosted seven regional interactive workshops for its customers around the country. These workshops were a first step in helping craning companies develop best practice and were attended by around 700 managers from the top crane-using or crane-owning construction companies in North America.

A number of topics were discussed and real-life incident case studies explored to enable participants to begin considering ways in which they could improve safety and achieve cost efficiencies, exploding the myth that greater focus on safety automatically means an impact on the bottom line.

Delegates heard how safety plans should not be imposed by management in isolation, but developed in close partnership with workers in the field who have a closer understanding of the day-to-day issues they face and are a great source of practical ideas. Emphasis was put on understanding not only how to develop and implement technical solutions but also on how to manage the process of change, which is too often overlooked, jeopardizing success.

By embracing the existing standards and incorporating the new ones, along with adopting industry best practices, owners and managers can increase production, efficiency, and ultimately, profitability on projects that use cranes. New requirements for operator training, increasing approach distances from power lines, and focusing on the communication process in the field will help prevent crane failures and are steps in the process of developing an effective crane management system.

The issue is not so much regulatory as it is motivational. With proper industry focus on cranes and crane operations as an integral part of the construction process and with the recognition that safe craning operations can increase production and profitability on a project, crane users and operators will be better motivated to adopt safe practices in the field.

Safety Always

The message to crane company owners is not “safety first” but “safety always.” When safety becomes a core value that is integral to and inseparable from every process, the industry will start to see a positive shift toward a safer and more profitable industry. Cranes bring an inherent value to a project and running a well-run crane management system can generate cost savings.

The greatest risks to craning operations are going out of business, losing their reputation, or experiencing changes to their Experience Modification Rating (EMR) that make it harder for them to get work. With those ideas and concerns in mind, owners and management should look at ways to improve their business model. By taking this approach, they’ll inadvertently be helping to prevent future catastrophes.

It can be challenging to know where to start. Discuss with your insurance provider if they can help you focus attention on key areas that need to be addressed before implementing any kind of change in an organization.

It could be communication, it could be empowerment, it could be the choice of a champion (the person designated to take responsibility for change), or it could be the development of a comprehensive roadmap to success. The important thing is to recognize the challenges, develop a plan, and implement change in a structured and managed way.

Zurich’s crane management workshop program will be offered in additional cities after the first of the year and additional technical training for all employees associated with crane and rigging operations will be provided through a comprehensive series of training programs currently under development.

About Marko Kaar

Kaar, senior risk engineering consultant for Zurich Services Corp., has more than 20 years experience in heavy construction safety and health, human resources, and environmental issues. Kaar also facilitates the integration of underwriting, engineering and claims services, and assists in the development and presentation of Zurich’s outreach and training programs. E-mail: marko.kaar@zurichna.com.

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