In summary we have more cranes than ever before, situated in our most densely populated areas. Never has there been a more important time to focus on what we can do as an industry to maintain a high level of safety.
Last week, there was an incident in Melbourne where a luffing tower crane was damaged during high wind, leaving the boom in an unstable and unsecured position posing a risk to a large number of residences and businesses below (see photo).
There were evacuations and business shutdowns for over 24 hours, but fortunately no injuries or loss of life. It's important that while WorkSafe conduct their investigation, we as an industry focus on the facts and lessons learned so we can improve on our safety standards and reduce the risk of this or similar incidents happening again. Hence this bulletin is not here to focus on liability and fault, but rather prevention. This graphic explains the effect of high windspeed and the mechanisms that exist in cranes to deal with high windspeed.
For the boom to be blown backwards, the crane needed to be in a position with either the boom too high and/or the machinery deck unable to slew (weathervane).
Worksafe will investigate whether:
1. The crane was improperly parked for out-of-service.
2. The crane was properly parked but malfunctioned.
3. The crane was properly parked but there is an inherent design flaw with the particular model of crane.
As an industry collective, we must be two steps ahead of all three scenarios above.
This starts firstly with conducting an assessment on the crane installation and the crane itself, to ensure its condition and working order. CraneSafe is one programme widely used and NATA-endorsed.
Secondly, operators and riggers need to be adequately licenced, trained and verified to operate the specific machine. This is an ongoing challenge with the current high demand for labour.
Thirdly, faults or issues detected on crane need to be documented and rectified immediately to ensure all aspects of the crane's function are working 100%.
The owner's manual is gospel when operating any crane. It needs to be accessible to the operator at all times and should include instructions such as positioning of cranes while out-of-service. If such instructions are not readily available, they should be obtained, or further engineering advice sought.
Correct permits and approvals are required for setting up cranes that slew over private property adjacent to worksites. Sometimes to leave the boom in the correct position stipulated by the manufacturer may conflict with the approved operating area. If this occurs, then manufacturer guidelines should not be deviated from; and further clarification with asset owner/principal contractor should be sought. Point 3 is rare but not impossible.
Generally, manufacturers conduct rigorous validation programmes that factor in all operating conditions. So, if a crane does not perform or respond in the intended way, the operator needs to highlight this and escalate the issue immediately.
With no fatalities or injuries from the incident last week, as an industry, we were fortunate. So, let's all learn from the incident and pull together and do what we can to ensure we have a safe crane industry today, and in years to come.
This article was originally published in CICA - Vic/Tas Branch's Crane Safety Bulletin #237.