Construction regulations demand that measures be put in place to address the risk of falling from height, but the mobile crane segment has particular needs that require users, manufacturers and even regulators to consider.

Unique fall protection challenges for mobile cranes

According to Cedric Froneman, Johnson Crane Hire’s executive for safety, health, environment and quality (SHEQ), there are unique risks facing crane crews, due to the height of most mobile cranes being less than 4 m from the ground often with inadequate anchor points available.

“There are unique challenges when dealing with large mobile cranes, leading to a fall factor of two – signifying the most dangerous level – for the crane crew moving around on top of a machine,” says Froneman. “Compared to a fall factor of zero, where the workman’s lanyard can be attached to an anchor point above their head, most mobile cranes only have attachment points at waist level or even sometimes only at feet level.”

Given the relatively low height of some mobile cranes, it is also possible that anyone falling may reach the ground before the shock absorbing lanyard can take their weight, essentially providing no fall protection.

“So, we can’t rely on the fall-arrest principle,” he says. “We rather need to focus on fall-restraint systems, and this relies largely on the crane original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to put systems in place on the mobile crane to stop the workman from falling in the first place.”

Froneman highlights that this raises the question of regulation, and the need to create a ‘level playing field’ among both the OEMs and the mobile crane users.

“At the moment, we have a situation where many of the fall-restraint systems are offered as an optional extra, rather than as a standard component,” he says. “The systems are also not always required by regulation, so the extra costs are borne by those users who choose the higher levels of safety, placing them potentially at a commercial disadvantage in the marketplace.”

Continuous engagement

Froneman emphasises that Johnson Crane Hire engages continuously with its OEM suppliers to find ways of better protecting the crane crew while they are on the machines. An example of what is now available are integrated horizontal lifelines on the booms of certain brands of newer machines.

“It is important that these safety enhancements are made by the OEMs, as users are not permitted to simply modify mobile cranes in any way they see fit,” says Froneman. “These machines are built to strict safety and technical specifications, so any modifications need to come from the OEM.”

Among the situations where the crane crew must be on top of the mobile crane are when counter-weights are loaded from a truck to the deck of the crane. The workmen, who must stand on the mobile crane to position the counterweight, are at risk of falling when they are attaching the slings or moving the counterweight into position.

The crane hook is then often used by some to support the workers with a retractable lifeline, which is hazardous in itself and is not in line with the requirements of Driven Machinery Regulations 18 (8); “No user shall require any person to be moved or supported by means of a lifting machine unless that machine is fitted with a man-cage designed and manufactured according to an approved SANS standard”.

Another potentially dangerous context is in the wash bay, when a cleaner must stand on a wet mobile crane deck while also holding a spraying device.

“In compliance with construction regulations, Johnson Crane Hire has developed a fall protection plan specifically for mobile crane applications and is constantly innovating new ways of protecting operators from the risk of falling,” says Froneman. “In the wash bay, for instance, we have installed a horizontal life-line to which cleaners must attach themselves.”

Risk assessment

The company has developed a full risk assessment with regard to climbing on and off mobile cranes, which includes a low body position, three-point contact, full body harness with adjustable lanyards, and the use of two anchor points at opposite sides of the operator.

With its own accredited in-house training programmes, Johnson Crane Hire trains its operators in terms of fall-arrest practices and standards according to the relevant unit standard. This training must be done every two years, in compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Construction Regulation requirements.

“This level of compliance is vital for us and is a strict requirement of the many blue-chip companies we work with. We also share information and experience with our customers in the interest of continually raising the standard of safety during lifting operations,” concludes Froneman.

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