The new federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation that requires crane operators to be certified and riggers, signalpersons, and inspectors to be qualified closes a weak link in the safety chain. But the rules still could be more stringent, especially when you consider the heights crane manufacturers go to in designing today’s lifting machines.
For many years, I worked for a major manufacturer of large construction cranes, Manitowoc Inc. Part of my job was interviewing the engineers who designed the machines and the manufacturing experts who built them.
As I learned why certain kinds of steel were chosen for booms, or why hydraulic systems were designed the way they were, or why control logic was set up the way it was, I heard frequently about industry design standards that include required safety factors.
Unlike the new OSHA rules, those design standards aren’t necessarily required by law. But manufacturers use them because if they don’t, they’ll soon be out of business. One wrongful-death judgment could ruin a crane manufacturer’s solvency and reputation.
At Manitowoc and other crane builders, engineers design operating systems to go to the safest condition if a failure happens to occur. For example, on cranes that used air-operated clutches and brakes on the hoisting drums, the system was designed so that an unexpected loss of air pressure would automatically apply brakes to stop the drum from turning so the load wouldn’t crash down onto what’s below.
If safety commands so much attention when cranes are being designed and manufactured, shouldn’t that focus be just as important when cranes are being used on jobsites where one accident can kill several people and wreck millions of dollars’ worth of property in seconds?
In the state where I live, professionals must be certified to manicure nails, cut hair, clean teeth, teach, drive trucks, sell real estate, and provide dozens of other services in which a single mistake is likely to cause less damage than a crane accident.
If those kinds of professionals need to be certified, why shouldn’t the ones who operate, signal for, and rig loads to cranes be licensed, too?