Eight Most Common Mistakes Mobile Crane Inspectors Make That Impact Crane Safety, Productivity, and OSHA Compliance

By: Dan Jenkins, publisher of The Iron Ox & Howard Kaplan – Liberty Crane and Rigging Consultants LLC

Originally written December 2012

Most commercial or industrial construction projects depend on some sort of mobile crane. Even though construction owners, contractors and many subcontractors depend on cranes, many take for granted that the cranes are properly inspected and in good working order, and many companies don’t give much thought to who inspects the crane, until there’s an accident or break down. Then, the crane becomes a major issue; production stops, employees are idle, shipments are late, customers are upset and the company’s credibility is weakened.

Simply put, a well inspected and properly maintained crane, along with properly trained / certified operators will help avoid panic attacks, keep jobs on schedule, ensure OSHA compliance and help avoid injuries. Howard Kaplan who has over 20 years in the crane and rigging business, including 13 years with the US Navy Seabee’s, has seen way too many companies lose money on their crane operations and construction projects by simply not paying attention to details of the crane inspections. Additionally, Howard says, “It pains me to see cranes only last 10 years when the crane could easily last 25 years if only proper inspections and maintenance procedures were followed.”

The following are eight of the most common mistakes mobile crane inspectors make I have seen in my 20 years in the industry.

1. Lack of Frequent Inspections. In most production operations, it’s the production equipment that receives the attention. A crane, no matter how basic or complex, is almost an “invisible” link in the total process. Everyone knows the value of checking your tires air pressure, water and oil level before a long trip. Yet, too many companies fail to take the proper time to make proper daily or frequent inspections. Ongoing frequent inspections also serve to help familiarize crane operators to better understand the equipment they are using and to take ownership of its care.

2. How are Inspection Reports being processed?

OSHA came out with subpart CC in 2010 and spelled out the frequent inspection requirements far better than they had in the past. The biggest over site is wire rope but we will touch on that later. The inspection records are pencil whipped if done at all. I see so many operators that have little or no concept of the requirements. This falls squarely on the employers according to OSHA.

This is right out of OSHA, ask your crane company to provide this:

(e) Monthly.
(1) Each month the equipment is in service it must be inspected in accordance with paragraph (d) of this section (each shift).
(2) Equipment must not be used until an inspection under this paragraph demonstrates that no corrective action under paragraphs (d)(2) and (3) of this section is required.
(3) Documentation.
(i) The following information must be documented and maintained by the employer that conducts the inspection:
(A) The items checked and the results of the inspection.
(B) The name and signature of the person who conducted the inspection and the date.
(ii) This document must be retained for a minimum of three months.
There is also a very strange law hidden under operations 1926.1417(j) 1 and 2
(j) If equipment adjustments or repairs are necessary:
(1) The operator must, in writing, promptly inform the person designated by the employer to receive such information and, where there are successive shifts, to the next operator; and
(2) The employer must notify all affected employees, at the beginning of each shift, of the necessary adjustments or repairs and all alternative measures. I wonder how many employers or operators are complying with this standard?

3. Missing Maintenance Records

Most companies will pay the crane repair bill to get the job back on track. Unfortunately, often times the records of maintenance can not be found. Jiffy Lube, for example, places a little sticker on the upper left hand corner of the windshield with the mileage due date for the oil change. The concept makes sense for cranes too. A maintenance log kept in or near the crane with information on what maintenance has been performed and the date, along with anything that should be watched. This can be particularly useful to third party inspectors. Stickers and onboard maintenance records can be very helpful on projects where there are several shifts and crane operators. Most importantly, it helps document the history of the equipment. If there is ever an issue with a manufacturer or OSHA, for example, a maintenance record can support your case.

4. Failing to Review Wire Rope

Unfortunately some crane operators don’t understand wire rope inspection or the difference between permissible line pull and whinch pull listed on the load charts. Many very good articles have been written in trade magazines regarding wire rope inspection and yet we still see damaged wire rope on cranes, wedge sockets installed backwards and poor spooling on drums. If not for such a large design factor I’m afraid we would have seen even more accidents due to poor wire rope. The obvious way to correct this is through training.

5. Not adhering to OSHA standards.
Since 2010 I’ve kept reading Subpart CC and I’m still finding things that I think are new and my interpretation changes depending on where I am in the world. Plus there were several errors and OSHA has been very good about working on letters of interpretation but like normal they can only go so fast. To follow the law you need to know the law, it is over 50 pages and as good as it is there is information hiding in on chapter to the next.

6. Failure to install lattice booms and Jib Sections Properly
Most if not all manufacturers have specific boom and jib assembly procedures. Yet we see lattice booms installed incorrectly as erectors try to use memory instead of the book, or this was what was in the yard. Not understanding how to use extensions properly is also a problem with boom and extension lengths.

7. Safety Device Inspections Overlooked including:

Safety devices § 1926.1415 Safety devices.

(a) Safety devices. The following safety devices are required on all equipment covered by this subpart, unless otherwise specified:

(1) Crane level indicator.

(i) The equipment must have a crane level indicator that is either built into the equipment or is available on the equipment. **When and how is this checked? I use the term blind trust. If you use a calculator and punch in some numbers hit equals whatever is there must be the answer right? What if you hit the wrong number? What if the calculator makes a mistake? Ever by a calculator at a dollar store? They don’t always work so well. My point is this; we can’t just trust something at face value. Use a good carpenter’s level and verify the level.

(ii) If a built-in crane level indicator is not working properly, it must be tagged-out or removed. If a removable crane level indicator is not working properly, it must be removed.

(2) Boom stops, except for derricks and hydraulic booms.

(3) Jib stops (if a jib is attached), except for derricks.

(4) Equipment with foot pedal brakes must have locks.

(5) Hydraulic outrigger jacks and hydraulic stabilizer jacks must have an integral holding device/check valve.

(6) Equipment on rails must have rail clamps and rail stops, except for portal cranes.

(7) Horn

(i) The equipment must have a horn that is either built into the equipment or is on the equipment and immediately available to the operator.

(ii) If a built-in horn is not working properly, it must be tagged-out or removed. If a removable horn is not working properly, it must be removed.

(b) Proper operation required. Operations must not begin unless all of the devices listed in this section are in proper working order. If a device stops working properly during operations, the operator must safely stop operations. If any of the devices listed in this section are not in proper working order, the equipment must be taken out of service and operations must not resume until the device is again working properly.
See § 1926.1417 (Operation). Alternative measures are not permitted to be used.

8. Failing to care for the controls. As systems have become more technologically sophisticated, ignoring their maintenance can be disastrous.

I don’t really have anything on this unless you’re talking about making sure they work correctly and they return to the neutral position when released. I will tell you that I have seen several accidents caused by crane operators changing hoists or hooks. If a main hoist was connected to the front drum and the crane operator simply switched out the hooks this could cause an accident and has. A new crane operator got onto a machine he was unfamiliar with and worked a very long day. When wrapping up the truck crane for travel he put the crane in rigging mode to override the anti two blocking prevention and pulled the auxiliary ball into the auxiliary boom head breaking it. There were several factors that caused this accident but ultimately it was the operator pulling the wrong lever. He allowed himself to go back to instinct and on this crane the levers were backwards.

9. Periodic Reviews and Refresher Training for Inspectors

Until recently there was no accredited third party crane inspector certification. Training companies all over the country offered inspector programs but it wasn’t until I personally visited Certified Boom Repair Services Inc in Tampa Florida that I really understood how much should go into a crane inspection and unfortunately how many are simply lacking. The NCCCO now offers mobile crane inspection certifications using a written exam. Based on what is available I think this is by far better than any test I have seen.

Inspection Wheel Tracks
Avoiding Difficult and Hard to Reach Places
Reporting Operator Abuse and Misuse of the crane

For more information on crane inspector training, contact Liberty Crane and Rigging Consulting, 623.332.2184