Reduce Liability and Increase Productivity with Truck Cranes

Any time a crane is used on a jobsite, safety should be the primary focus. “Safety is a major consideration in the design and manufacture of mechanics trucks and truck-mounted cranes, but only the operator can ensure a trouble-free work environment,” says Tim Worman, product manager of commercial vehicles, Iowa Mold Tooling Co. (IMT).

Operator training is a necessity. “The operator should be fully trained and practiced in safe crane operation before attempting to lift a load in a work situation where people could be injured or equipment could be damaged,” says Tom Eggers, director of marketing, Maintainer Corporation of Iowa, Inc.

Don’t leave anything to chance. “Service technicians should read, understand and follow the crane operation manual and all safety requirements before touching the controls,” says Worman. “We also advise technicians to practice operating a new crane in a safe environment prior to lifting the first load. By doing so, operators will know the performance characteristics of the crane before adding the challenges associated with a load.”

It is mandatory to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. “Operators commit an OSHA violation when they do not follow crane manufacturer instructions while performing a lift,” says Worman. “The most common safety violation we see with service cranes is failure to properly deploy stabilizers to maintain unit stability.”

In addition to understanding crane operation, you also need to understand how to properly rig a load. “Rigger training prepares crane operators to properly rig lifts and to keep loads balanced by maintaining the center of gravity at the lift point,” says Worman.

Be sure to keep the crane inspections and appropriate paperwork up to date. “The crane and carrier should have current inspection records and required forms to verify it is in good working order,” says Eggers. “The crane operator should know all applicable federal and local regulations and requirements. Any crane operator needs to be a competent individual as defined by OSHA.”

Positioning and Stability

With any proposed lift, it’s important to know the estimated weight of the object to be lifted, including material-handling devices, and to ensure stability of the vehicle.

When lifting components, don’t forget to take into account the added weight of fluids or accessories. “It is easy for an operator to underestimate the weight of the intended load,” says Tim Davison, product manager of bodies and cranes, Stellar Industries. “Heavy equipment parts books with estimated component weights may be in error because bolt-on accessories or fluid capacities are not included in the books’ estimated weights. As a matter of practice, operators have to become accomplished at understanding how much they are lifting.”

Once a good weight estimate is made, the operator must read the load chart to know how close the crane needs to be to the load to make a safe lift. “This is an acquired skill, and operators should be diligent about understanding load charts and crane placement,” says Davison. “Stability charts must also be consulted to ensure the intended load will not create an unstable condition in a zone the operator intends to use.

“It is important to remember though that the operator has the ultimate responsibility to make sure his vehicle is stable,” he adds. “Ground conditions, angle of the truck, positioning of the stabilizers and other factors all affect stability.”

Start by properly positioning the truck. “The operator should back the truck up to the load, allowing enough room to position the crane and perform the lift,” says Worman.

“When the crane is on the back corner of the body — as most mechanic’s trucks are — the most stable lifting zone is off the rear of the truck,” says Eggers.

Lawson agrees, adding, “Never pick a load while over the cab.”

Outriggers are the key to stability and must always be used. “By regulation, the outriggers must be deployed for maximum stability and to avoid any unnecessary stress to the carrier, truck body and components,” says Eggers. “Should any situation require a lift without outriggers deployed properly, the manufacturer, an engineer with specific knowledge of cranes or other expert in cranes and rigging should be consulted.”

Whether the stabilizers need to be fully deployed depends upon manufacturer recommendations and the load. “If a stability chart has a section that shows stability for your vehicle with stabilizers partially deployed, then it would be permissible,” says Davison. “If the manufacturer’s stability chart only shows stabilizers fully deployed, then stabilizers should be fully deployed for all lifts.”

Stay in control

Once it’s time to perform the lift, make sure the crane operator has a clear view of the work area. “Crane operators should never perform a lift when they cannot see their load,” says Worman.

“If the load is not in the direct line of sight of the operator, the operator should relocate the truck/crane or his/her own location,” says Eggers. “The wireless remote control allows full mobility to and around the load. If conditions prohibit that, the operator should employ a [trained] signal person that can be in direct line of sight of the load.”

The operator must also be able to control the load. “All Maintainer cranes come with a fully proportional remote control,” says Eggers. “This feature allows the operator to slowly ‘feather’ the load accurately into place. Additionally, the overall speed of the functions can be adjusted directly on the remote control in increments of 100%, 75%, 50% and 25%, allowing the operator more finite proportional control. Extreme caution should be used to prevent any chance of body parts being crushed, sudden shifts of the load, etc.”

Pay attention at all times, especially when performing lifts that require precise placement. “Always try to keep appendages from getting between the load and another surface,” says Mike Lawson, crane engineering manager, AutoCrane. “Take slow movements with the crane — proportional cranes are better for this type of application. And keep a close watch on the load and surroundings at all times.”

“When precisely positioning a load such as an engine or transmission, operators should keep their load as low to the ground as possible and perform all crane and load movements slowly and smoothly,” says Worman.

Davison concurs, noting, “This results in the least chance of damage to person or material should something go wrong.”

Consider all variables

Analyze the ground beneath the truck to ensure it is flat and provides the best foundation to make a lift. “When ground conditions are less than ideal, operating capability can potentially be achieved by reducing the load or using stabilizer pads to increase the footprint of the stabilizer foot,” says Worman.

Lawson adds, “Use outrigger pads to distribute the load on soft ground or blocks if the ground is not level.”

Cribbing is another option. “Cribbing must be added to distribute the weight of the outriggers,” explains Eggers. “If the truck sinks, tilts or shifts, the lift should be aborted until solid footing can be obtained. If there is any doubt of the ground conditions, an expert in rigging or a site surveyor should be utilized.”

Wind can also impact stability during a lift. “Wind does play a small factor in any lift,” says Eggers. “Excessive wind may require an operator to reduce total capacity, utilize more tag lines to control the load and/or restrict the operator from lifting the load far from the ground.”

Worman cautions, “Field service technicians should not operate the mechanics truck crane in excessive wind speeds. If windy conditions are present, it is important to allow additional clearance for potential boom, load line and load swaying.”

Certain loads are more susceptible to the effects of wind, particularly light, large loads. “Tethering the load will help with the handling,” says Lawson. “However, if the wind is too strong for safe handling, AutoCrane recommends delaying the lift until more stable conditions exist.”

Always be aware of your surroundings, below, above and around you. “Assess the work area for potential hazards,” says Davison. “Things of concern could be obstructions such as overhead electrical lines, machinery in close proximity, basically anything that can interfere with the safe and free movement of the crane.”

Clear the work area of any trip, fall or electrocution hazards. “Isolating the work area with safety cones or barricades is also recommended,” says Davison.

And don’t take shortcuts. “The most common safety violations we’ve experienced are not deploying outriggers, disabling the anti-two-block device, tampering with the overload control mechanism and not replacing a damaged crane wire rope [cable],” says Eggers.

“Operators sometimes believe that disabling a safety device will make them more productive and allow them to get their work done faster,” Davison comments. “This is wrong thinking on their part. Safety devices by manufacturers are there for the operators’ safety.”

Stellar has taken steps to deter tampering. The company’s Crane Dynamics Technology (CDT) operating system features a ‘safe mode’. “The CDT system continuously monitors safety devices to ensure they are operating correctly,” says Davison. “If these devices are disabled or for some reason stop working properly, then our CDT cranes will enter ‘safe mode’ and display error codes. Safe mode will disable or limit some crane functions to ensure damage or injury is limited. Once the safety devices are repaired or replaced and begin functioning correctly, our CDT cranes will go back to ‘standard mode’.”