Thoughts on Crane Safety Prequalification of Suppliers
By R. M. HONTZ, P.E.
Construction Safety has become increasingly important since the advent of OSHA over thirty years ago. Capital projects in the process industry invariably list safety as the number one prioritized project objective, followed by cost, schedule, and quality. Because of the risks involved with lifting, crane safety should be a key element of all Construction Safety Programs.
If all lifts were made with competent operators using sound, well maintained equipment (e.g., cranes and rigging) and following a comprehensive, quality lift plan, lifting accidents would be a thing of the past. The following are some thoughts on how to achieve the first two of these three objectives.
Many companies have sufficient demand for cranes to justify owning their own cranes and keeping crane operators on their payroll. They are better able to control the quality of operators, equipment, and plans than the company that has an infrequent demand and must rely on third party suppliers. If you are an owner with limited demand for cranes, how can you be assured that whoever is sent to your site is competent and that the crane is in good mechanical condition?
The process of “prequalification” is one way. Prequalification means knowing that the company you call for lifting service has previously been checked out and will send a qualified operator and a well cared for crane. In order for a supplier to be prequalified, you will need a lot of information about their business and organization, their personnel, and their equipment. You're looking for a basis of confidence that when called, they will send a crane and operator that are “fit for purpose”.
Set up a meeting with the supplier's top management at their place of business and be prepared to ask a lot of questions that cover the following areas:
- BUSINESS AND ORGANIZATION
- Check safety and incident records for the past 3 to 5 years.
- Check their maintenance policy.
- Is preventive maintenance (PM) being done per the crane manufacturer's recommendations?
- Check the time spent on emergency maintenance. If more than about 20% is spent on breakdowns, you should be suspicious of the PM program.
- Does the supplier comply with your Drug and Alcohol Policy?
- Discuss roles and responsibilities (e.g., who does the rigging, who determines the weight of the load, etc.).
- Ensure that their personnel, especially the operator, have authority commensurate with their responsibility. Make it clear that you will support an operator who refuses to make a lift he thinks is unsafe.
- Check that all operators are certified to be in compliance with local, state or national laws and regulations.
- If no certification standards exist, thoroughly assess the supplier's training process. How long is the training period? Who supervises the trainees? Are they tested? Etc.
- Ask as many questions (and listen carefully to the answers) as it takes to be confident that their operators are competent.
- Inform the supplier that the first time an operator appears at the site he will be given a brief written and hands-on test to demonstrate competency. Sample tests are available in the Exxon Crane Guide - Lifting Safety Management System published by the Specialized Carriers and Riggers Association, 1998.
- A knowledgeable person should make a general assessment of the mechanical condition of typical cranes. This will confirm that the supplier is not just paying lip service to maintenance.
- Ensure the maintenance bulletins issued by crane manufacturers are used in the shop. They are not very useful if they are stored in the main office.
- Ensure that electronic safety devices are installed and working. As a minimum, all cranes entering your site should have an anti-two-block alarm or shut down and a load-moment or load-indicating device.
- Inform the supplier that all cranes entering your site will be given at least a cursory inspection before going to work. The Exxon Crane Guide previously referenced has detailed inspection and cursory inspection checklists.
Suppliers should be given a reasonable opportunity to correct deficiencies. However, suppliers that fail to comply should be disqualified and removed from further consideration.
It is probably a good idea to consider repeating the process every three or four years. It may make sense to do it more often if:
- Key personnel leave the supplier's organization
- Company ownership changes hands
- The supplier begins to have accidents or incidents, even if on other sites.
- The supplier starts to lose money. Maintenance is often one of the first casualties when money gets tight.
- Other factors cause you to get suspicious.
Lifting is a risky business. The approach outlined here will help manage the risks by removing many unknowns concerning cranes and their operators. This is an important contribution not only to crane safety but to an overall construction safety program as well.