First, a little background. I was involved in a couple of projects involving work on Department of Energy facilities in the 1990s. In the first half of that decade, there was an incident in which a person was crushed by a dropped cylinder containing several tons of uranium; after this incident DOE very wisely increased its training and emphasis on lifting and rigging safety. A few months after this incident I was involved in a groundwater project at a DOE facility; I was working as a hydrogeologist and as the safety officer for my drill rig and among my responsibilities I was expected to make sure that our lifting and rigging was done safely. Granted, we weren’t lifting anything heavier than auger sections weighing a few hundred pounds – but this is enough to hurt, or even kill, someone if dropped from the top of the drill rig. Imagine my surprise when, just a few weeks later, the driller on my rig tried to get away with some risky shortcuts. I put an immediate end to it (incurring his wrath), not wanting to be responsible for both our companies being banned from future DOE work.
The bottom line is that lifting and rigging is something we do all the time and it normally goes without a hitch. And it can be tremendously risky, even with the best precautions. Let’s face it – we’re using mechanical gear to lift heavy objects to move them from place to place. Sometimes we’re lifting them to great heights or moving them a fair distance; sometimes people find themselves underneath these loads. And whether we’re lifting a hundred pounds to move it into a truck, or lifting tens of tons into or out of a ship or to the top of a tall building, the same general risks are present and the precautions are pretty much the same.
You can find a fair amount of information on the OSHA website. Much of this is aimed at maritime rigging, but the problems and safety practices are very similar for other situations as well.
Let’s start off with the risks. These are actually pretty obvious – we don’t want to drop a load by mistake, and we don’t want to crush people or property. So this means that we have to make sure our equipment’s in good condition, that we follow proper safety procedures, and that we train anyone who’s involved in lifting and rigging operations. Let’s take these one at a time.
Taking care of our equipment sounds pretty straightforward – and it is. Part of this is buying good equipment – not just cranes or winches, but the hooks, straps, cables, and all the other gear we use for lifting heavy loads. But just as important is making sure that we take care of our lifting and rigging equipment. We have to perform routine maintenance, we have to check it regularly, and we have to make sure that we document all of these checks to make sure that we don’t miss anything. That maintenance has got to include checking the cables and hooks for rust as well as checking cables, straps, slings, ropes, and any other such materials for fraying, broken strands, rot, and anything else that could affect its strength. Dropping a load is bad enough even if it doesn’t hit anyone or anything; dropping a load on a person, a vehicle, a building, or a piece of expensive equipment is even worse. According to OSHA:
- All rigging gear and equipment provided by the employer must be inspected before each shift and at intervals during its use to minimize the possibility of a rigging failure (111(a)).
- Overloading the crane and rigging gear may cause:
- The crane hoist line to part or the rigging gear to fail.
- The crane to tip over.
- Damage to and possible failure of the crane.
- Defective gear and equipment must be immediately removed from service (111(a)).
- Check nylon slings for cuts or frayed areas.
- Manila rope slings should be checked to determine that they are safe for the intended working loads (112(a)(1)).
- Check wire rope slings for kinks or broken wires or strands.
- Check chain slings for stretched links (112(c)(2)).
- Check hooks to make sure they are not bent from overloading.
- Check that the crane hook safety latch automatically retracts to the closed position upon release.
- Bent or sprung hooks must not be used (113(b)(3)).
- See GUIDANCE ON SAFE SLING USE
Of course, lifting equipment also includes padeyes and other lifting points attached to whatever it is that you’re picking up. OSHA has guidance on these as well:
- Pad eyes should be designed for a specific use.
- Each pad eye should be able to hold the intended weight/force that will be applied to it after it is welded into place.
- Inspect pad eyes for cracks and other defects that will affect its capacity.
- Remove defective pad eyes from the work area.
- All pad eyes should be welded solidly all around. Weld the middle of the pad eye on both sides first, then weld both ends.
- Inspect fitting tools and equipment such as come-alongs, chain falls, turnbuckles, chains and hook ratchets that will be used with pad eyes.
- Make sure that the hooks from the come-alongs and chain falls are seated properly in the eye of the pad eye.
- Do not overstress the fitting tools – use up to 80% of their capacity.
- When applying pressure with fitting tools or equipment to pad eyes, make sure that everyone is well out of the danger zone in the event that the pad eye tears off the surface it was welded to.
The bottom line is that if your equipment’s in good shape and you’re not overloading it then you’re off to a good start.
Your procedures are even more important than your equipment – good procedures will help operators to catch deficient equipment while poor procedures not only won’t catch bad equipment, but will compound the insult by allowing for unsafe operation. Even the best equipment, if improperly operated, will put people at risk.
Part of the deal with procedures is the equipment part – not only instructing operators to check their equipment (and to check it properly), but making sure the equipment is up to the task. For example, a good procedure will specify that a rope or cable can’t be used to support its full rated load; it will instruct users not to exceed, say, 75-80% of the rated weight. Leaving a cushion helps to avoid accidents in the case, say, that a load is picked up too rapidly, was weighed on an inaccurate scale, snags on something, or something of the like.
In addition to telling operators how to check and use the equipment, good procedures should also include steps that individuals can take to stay safe. For example, nobody should ever walk beneath a suspended load, loads should never be moved near power lines, and riggers should be careful about moving loads in the vicinity of stacks of material. Here are some other things OSHA mentions being careful about:
- Avoid lifts near stacked material that may be knocked over by a swinging load (116(k)).
- Always check for overhead power lines before lifting a load.
- Before loads or empty lifting gear are raised, lowered, or swung, advance warning must be given to workers operating in the vicinity (116(p)).
- Use a designated spotter to assure that proper clearances are maintained.
- A worker or signalman who is familiar with signal codes must communicate with the crane operator (116(l)).
- When walking with a load, keep it as close to the ground as possible.
- Inspect the spot where the load is to be landed.
- When lowering or setting a load, set it down slowly.
- Tag lines must be provided on loads likely to swing or need guidance (116(d)).
- Do not use tag lines to control lift when the lift is under or near electrical power lines.
- Riggers must not place themselves in a hazardous position between a swinging load and a fixed object (116(q)).
- Workers are not to work under the load.
- Workers must not ride a load or hook (116(i)).
- Riggers should keep fingers, hands and feet away from pinch points.
- Slings must not be used over sharp corners without padding (116(f)).
- Slings must not be covered with permanent padding that would prevent them from being inspected before each use.
- Use softeners, padding, chaffing gear or other sling protection as necessary to prevent damage to nylon slings.
- Kinked or knotted wire rope slings should be removed from service (111). Wire rope shall not be secured by knots (1915.112(b)(4)).
Something else about procedures – you should follow the same template for all of the procedures you develop. This helps you to make sure you don’t miss anything; it also helps the users to make sure they understand where to look for various bits of information. There is no perfect template and there are a lot of preferences. At the very least, you should include sections that discuss the purpose of the procedure, its scope (that is, who it applies to), references, precautions and safety notes, and the documents you might have to generate or use (e.g. checklists). This is all in addition to the procedure itself – the step-by-step instructions telling the user how to perform a particular task.
Developing procedures can be an exacting task that’s often not a lot of fun. On the other hand, procedures are absolutely essential and they have to be done right – a slipshod procedure can be worse than none at all.
The last part of this is the training – if you have people who are performing potentially dangerous work then they have got to be trained on how to do it safely before they start their work. In the case of lifting and rigging this means not only classroom training and intellectual knowledge, but practical training and knowledge as well. In other words, it’s not enough to put a person in a class for a day – or a week – if they can’t show that they know how to use a crane or a hoist or a come-along properly.
The practical part of the training should also include the trainee not only performing tasks under instruction, but performing them under observation where they’re working alone – but being watched to make sure they work properly. So you start off by teaching a person how to, say, strap a load onto a pallet, check the weight against the rating of the sling, and move it to the proper location. After that, you can walk through the whole process with them, making sure they understand how to do it properly and, after that, you watch them do the job while you give feedback. And when they can go through the entire process without any serious errors, you sign their training record showing that they’re qualified to do this task alone and unsupervised.
OK – now I also have to acknowledge that this is all pretty standard stuff – so standard that I’m hoping you’re already doing this, not just for lifting and rigging, bur for all of your training. But if you’re not, you need to consider upgrading your training program – at least for practical tasks.
Finally, make sure you document all of this and make sure that important parts are signed by a qualified operator to document that the trainee has demonstrated adequate knowledge (or adequate performance) as determined by someone qualified to make this assessment. In other words, you can’t have a secretary with absolutely no lifting and rigging experience who signs off on training documents. This would be like a high school biology teacher approving a surgeon’s appendectomy skills.
There is a lot more to lifting and rigging than what’s mentioned here, but this is a good start. Having said that, the information here is a good start. The bottom line is that this can be a dangerous exercise that can damage property and that can hurt or kill people. Not only can it do these things – lifting and rigging accidents have done all these things multiple times. You owe it to your workers, your company, and yourself to follow the rules, to follow good safety procedures, to ensure your equipment is in good shape, and to make sure everyone knows how to work safely.