OFTEN the most visible pieces of equipment on a construction site or in a factory, cranes also have the potential to be the most dangerous, with accidents resulting in extensive damage to equipment and workers.
To better ensure the safe operation of lifting equipment, the AS 2550 series of Australian Standard for Cranes, hoists and winches — Safe use, was introduced, specifying the regular inspection and servicing of equipment.
With the arrival of AS 2550 series, the onus is now on the equipment owner to demonstrate that their inspection regime and maintenance procedure is equal to or better than the Australian Standards.
Under the standard, cranes are required to be checked periodically every three months, with major certification and refurbishment compulsory at 10 years for mechanical and 25 years for structural inspection to assess their suitability for continued safe operation.
John Heazlewood, Chair of Standards Australia’s Committee for Cranes, said previously there was little guidance for crane users as to their responsibilities of maintenance, application and operation of cranes, and the practical requirements of the legislation.
“Maintenance of cranes is not the sole responsibility of the manufacturer. While the manufacturer will give good guidance on the required maintenance for the model of crane, however in most situations, the manufacturer has little knowledge of the exact requirements of the crane’s operating environment,” Heazlewood told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
He explained that the responsibility of maintenance rests with all involved in the use and operation of the crane.
“For example this includes the owner, driver, principle site contractor and other workers.
“This is to ensure safe and reliable application of cranes and to have the required work completed on time and a minimum of disruption to other site activates,” he said.
Penalties apply for failing to comply with the provisions of the Regulation and the Act and Heazlewood says enforcing the requirements of the Standard is the province of each OH&S Regulatory Authority, as seen appropriate.
A Workcover Inspector attending a workplace that supplies a crane, hoist or winch, or where one is being used, may seek verification that the provisions of the legislation are being observed, and may take compliance action.
One area where crane users may not be aware of their obligations when it comes to fulfilling the requirements of the standard is in the hire and leasing of cranes.
John Gillespie, President of the Crane Industry Council of Australia (CICA), and director of Gillespies Crane Services, says it is important for both crane hire companies and operators to understand who is responsible for what.
“Companies hiring the cranes, particularly in the construction industry, require documentation of the last service or the copy of the annual inspection to ensure they are getting a crane on the job that is safe and reliable,” Gillespie said.
“With mobile cranes for example, there are two types of hiring: dry hire (without an operator) and wet hire (with operator).
“Dry hire is normally when a crane is hired generally on a long term basis; longer than three months, and it is normally the responsibility of the people hiring the cranes to ensure that the maintenance and paperwork is done.
“However, with wet hire, it is the company that supplies the crane and operator to take care of the servicing requirements,” Gillespie explained.
He also advises users when hiring a crane, to always insist of getting equipment with a CraneSafe green sticker.
“This indicates that a crane has been through the industry standard annual inspection program.”
Despite the introduction of the standard, many companies are still more concerned about cost and lost production time rather than the safety standards of their cranes.
Kathleen Davidson, assistant service manager, Morris Powerlec, says there is a misconception in industry that because it is just a standard, you don’t have to comply.
“Many don’t release it forms part of a company’s OH&S compliance to go out and find out what these standards are. Ignorance is no excuse,” she said.
Davidson believes some companies are more concerned about a perceived loss of production time which can prevent them inspecting and servicing their equipment.
“It is generally production departments that are reluctant to stop the cranes, to the point where some don’t even want to miss an hour of production, which is sometimes all the time that is required to inspect and repair some cranes.
“The ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality is still prevalent in some workplaces and it can be hard to change this way of thinking,” she said.
Davidson points out that regular maintenance makes good financial sense offering greater reliability and reducing the chance of costly major failures.
“One three monthly service taking one hour can potentially save you a 12hr breakdown further down the track, or one quick little repair can save you a new hoist etc.”
According to Steve Purves from Pacific Hoists, the specific challenges of performing crane maintenance varies depending on the industry, but says crane accessibility tends to be a key concern for users.
“In my experience of being a service engineer for 18 years, some of the limitations I regularly encountered were means of access to cranes or lifting equipment by use of mobile platforms, fall restraints, fall arrest systems and scaffolding etc,” Purves explained.
“Apart from the obvious inconvenience, this can lead to unwanted downtime on production and additional costs involved to the client,” he said.
“Though through greater use of technology, solid state electronics, computer control, higher utilisation and greater focus on customer control, is making this less of an issue,” he said.
Both Davidson and Purves stress the importance of keeping a logbook of equipment inspections and maintenance, as failing to do so can prove to be costly.
“This is especially important when it comes to the 10 and 25 year checks. If there is no logbook then those performing the inspection have to assume the worst, and this will only increase cost of maintenance to the crane,” Purves said.
“It is also important to ensure maintenance and servicing is conducted by a reputable company with qualified service engineers, who can perform a comprehensive service report, logging all equipment/components on each item ensuring product reliability and most importantly safety of operators and personnel,” he said.
Davidson says that this is an area that needs more careful monitoring and suggests that a kind of licensing system could be put place for crane service companies.
“The industry is changing and getting more specialised, so there needs to be knowledgeable, specifically skilled personnel for different types of cranes.
“You can’t just pull someone off the street and expect them to know about every crane in existence and to rely on knowledge that has just been passed down,” she said.
Heazlewood says to companies and crane operators, who for their own reasons short cut on accepted good maintenance practice, “to seriously consider their position within the crane industry for their own safety and that of their and other workers”.