Construction Safety Week – An introduction to safety in lifting operations

The number of tower cranes on the Dublin skyline is often seen as an indicator of the economic health of the construction sector. With about 100 tower cranes currently visible in Dublin, the importance of safe lifting operations cannot be underestimated.

Of course, lifting operations are not limited to tower cranes: mobile cranes, teleporters and excavators are the less prominent lifting plant in use on almost every construction site.

The use of cranes and lifting devices is mainly driven by practicality, programme and cost. There are also health and safety considerations in encouraging more mechanical lifting operations on construction sites:

  • Reduction in manual handling of materials by personnel
  • Preference for off-site pre-fabricated materials; e.g. precast concrete beams/columns/walls, bathroom pods, modular houses

In the reduction of manual handling hazards and the transfer of construction hazards to a controlled factory environment (for pre-fabricated components), there is the introduction of the (low probability) high hazard potential lifting operations.

Lifting operation complexity can vary from multiple tower cranes to a single excavator completing a single lift.  There are some general management controls that apply to them all:

  • Lifting accessories (chains, slings, shackles, etc.) should be inspected and certified every six months.
  • Lifting appliances (cranes, teleporters, excavators, etc.) should be inspected and certified every year.
  • Mobile and tower cranes are also subject to a load test every four years.
  • Lifting accessories and appliances require a recorded weekly inspection.
  • The crane/plant operator must be Solas CSCS trained.
  • The load should be slung and directed by a Solas CSCS trained Slinger/Signaller

(For Solas CSCS cards for cranes, excavators, teleporters and slinger/signallers no other training is recognised in Ireland, although there is a process for the transfer of a UK CPCS card).

  • A lift plan should be in place to document the planning of the lifting operation.
  • The lifting operation should be appropriately supervised.

The management and supervision roles associated with lifting include:

  • The Appointed Person (Lifting Operations) is responsible to ensure that the lift is planned and carried out safely
  • The Crane Supervisor is on site during the lifting operation and is responsible to ensure the lift is carried out as detailed in the lift plan
  • A crane coordinator is required on sites with multiple cranes, with overlapping slew radius.

On large projects, these roles will be fulfilled by different people, but on smaller sites a single person may be responsible for developing the lift plan and supervising the lifts.

The training for these roles is usually a three day Appointed Person (Lifting Operations) course, as there is no Solas CSCS training requirement. This is accepted for fulfilling the role of Appointed Person and also Crane Supervisor and/or Crane Coordinator.

There are further management controls required for some of the specific hazards associated with the different lifting appliances. For example, a tower crane will require a temporary works design for its base. A mobile crane will require confirmation that the ground conditions are sufficient to support the crane and load (again, a temporary works design may be required). A teleporter may be very flexible, but they have a limited capacity and can easily become unbalanced if operated by an inexperienced driver.

As with all lifting operations, the potential for falling loads is a significant hazard. Lifting should never be conducted over public areas, and within construction sites, there should be clear exclusion zones.

An important, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of safe lifting operations is communication. On large sites, with multiple cranes, the communication will be facilitated by the Crane Coordinator. On smaller sites, the site management will need to ensure that all are aware of the lifting operations and exclusion zones. An important direct aspect of communication, is that between the crane operator and Slinger/Signallers, as well as facilitating communication between multiple crane operators (e.g. a dedicated ‘crash’ channel on a two-way radio). A standard procedure should be adopted for verbal commands or hand signals, along with which method has preference; i.e. direct visual hand signals will often be preferred.

Lifting operations do present a number of significant hazards, but with good planning, management and supervision these can be adequately mitigated. With the construction industry expected to further embrace modular techniques and off-site construction, well managed lifting will see benefits not just in site safety, but also programme and cost.

For further information, refer to the Irish Standard IS:361:2013: Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Tower Cranes & Self-Erecting Cranes or contact Tom Sweeney in our Health and Safety Team.