A View from the Top
Crane-Related Injuries and Deaths
Crane operators are in demand around the globe. Crane operators must be able to keep focused and calm all day, often alone with their best judgment and a steady hand on the controls. As crane operators and contractors know, the crane is often the most dangerous, expensive, and important piece of equipment on a jobsite. When crane safety fails, workers and bystanders are injured, deadlines are not met, property damage occurs, and the workplace environment alters with distressed coworkers
who are anxious about working at the unsafe site.
One wrong cue from the signal man, one mechanical failure, one single crane operator error and thousands of pounds of materials could plummet, killing or injuring workers and bystanders. Yet many crane operators work without the aid of any instruments to tell them where their hook might swing or how much they are lifting.
Crane Operators and Crane Injuries
OSHA estimates that there are over 250,000 crane operators nationwide working on over 175,000 cranes in the construction and maritime industries. In most states, no special license is required to operate a crane (though some states require crane operator certification only if the project is state funded), nor are there rules for the length of time an operator may work before taking a mandatory break. Tower crane operators often spend all day in the cab without the niceties of restroom breaks or leaving the worksite for lunch, which in the case of one British crane operator with the flu nearly proved fatal.
Workplace crane-accidents most often cause injury and death in other workers and bystanders than the crane operator. Crane operator injuries and death only amount to
of all injuries caused by cranes.
This does not mean that crane operator or crane-related deaths or injuries such as elocutions are minor or that crane operators are not entitled to compensation for their injuries. The injuries that occur to crane operators often prove crippling at best, fatal at worst.
Crane Operator Fatalities: Falls, Electrocution, & Mobile Crane Tip-Overs
Falls and electrocutions are the two most common ways crane operators get to meet their maker. Together, falls and electrocutions account for over half of all crane operator fatalities.
Cranes are not just powerful; they're tall too. It's the reason they are used. As buildings rise at a construction site, the crane's hook height has to ascend even higher where powerful winds reside. For tower cranes, these segments have to be added to piece by piece with each piece adding the chance for human error or design failure that can lead to falls. Sometimes a safety harness is not worn by those working high above the unforgiving pavement below. Sometimes a safety harness's 12-foot drop becomes a 120-foot plummet when it fails. And sometimes the crane operator falls through a floor access because it is not guarded or covered only by a piece of plywood fixed by a screw.
Because it can occur with mobile crane as well as tower crane machinery, injury and death from electrocutions are the most common cause of crane-related fatalities. Insulated boom cages, insulated lines, and other barriers and anti-current devices help protect the crane operator and other workers from injury when the crane contacts a current. Only one part of the crane (hook, boom, jib tie, etc.) needs to touch a live cable (most commonly an overhead power line) to turn the entire machine into an electric chair. This makes elocutions not just a hazard to the crane operator but to all workers in contact with or sometimes even those close to the crane or its load.
For mobile cranes
, which have the highest incidences of workplace-injury (some reports estimate mobile cranes are responsible for 75% of all crane-accidents), tipping over
is the common cause of workplace injury and death to crane operators. The chance for a mobile crane tipping over is increased from rain that soften the ground and whenever the crane operator lifts a load beyond the crane's lift capacity or the crane swings a heavy load too far or fast. Click for more on crane tip-over injury and prevention
Crane Inspection and Mechanical Failure
OSHA requires that crane equipment be inspected annually and prior to use and that use be stopped until repairs are made. Some states also require that mobile cranes be certified every year and tower cranes each time they erected, even if they are used on the same job.
Because most cranes are rented, it is important to know the crane's history and to have qualified persons inspect the crane. Rust, metal stress, cracks, and other indications of unsafe equipment can be covered with a coat of paint.
Even though inspectors might find a crane has deficiencies, crane inspectors do not have the authority to shut a crane down or bar its use, despite OSHA requirements. It is up to the owner to comply. Do not rely on a certification and a sticker being given to a crane. A crane can receive both without having the crane pass OSHA standards; the cert and sticker only show that an inspection has been done, not that the machinery meets OSHA standards.
Operational Safety to Prevent Workplace Crane Accidents
In addition to equipment inspections, crane operators need to know their cranes and be cognizant of the limits and range of their equipment. It is important to know your load chart and to make sure you know or can calculate the weight of each load.
It is also important to mind your surroundings, especially in mobile cranes working around trenches and backfilled locations since the weight of the crane and its load can cause these areas to collapse, and to maintain clear communications. Communications should keep workers clear of hoisted loads and the crane operator informed about dangers such as energized power lines. Radios should not be used for communications other than the job at hand and should be tested and on frequencies separate from others used on the site.
Perhaps the greatest precaution to prevent workplace crane injuries, and the one that gets the greatest protest, takes place before a crane operator ever got into the cab: certification.
Drug, vision, and hearing tests in addition to crane operations and safety exams can seriously reduce the amount of crane-related injuries and deaths on the site. Based on OSHA's estimate of 250,000 crane operators nationwide, approximately 90 percent of crane operators are not certified. Certification also allows crane operators to be penalized by suspending their license for careless behavior and provide good crane operators more job opportunities. Canada, our neighbor to the north, began requiring certification in the 1970s and saw a 50% reduction in crane-related workplace injuries.
Lawyers for Change.
If you or a loved one has suffered a crane-related injury, the Consumer Justice Group would like to help. Our team of workplace lawyers throughout the country is experienced in cases where mechanical failure or negligence at the workplace has left a person severely injured. We can help you in your battle with insurance companies and with workers' compensation to get the money settlements you deserve to pay hospital bills and get your life back together. Contact us for a free case evaluation.
The Workers' Rights News is a service of the Consumer Justice Group.