Reduce Liability and Increase Productivity with Truck Cranes

The operator needs to understand how to rig the load and position the truck and crane for maximum stability.
The operator needs to understand how to rig the load and position the truck and crane for maximum stability.

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). “Site preparation is an extremely important factor in establishing a safe work environment.”

Carefully plan lifts and look for hazards such as power lines, bystanders, overhead obstructions or excessive wind. “Trucks should set up on a solid, level surface where it is impossible for the crane to come into contact with electricity in the fully extended position,” notes Worman.

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 of Iowa.

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 while performing a lift. “Operators commit an OSHA violation when they do not follow crane manufacturer instructions while performing a lift,” explains 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 the crane operation, you also need to understand how to properly rig a load. “Rigger training prepares crane operators to properly rig load lifts and to keep loads balanced by maintaining the center of gravity at the lift point,” says Worman.

It is also necessary to keep the crane inspections and the 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.”

Understand the load

If you can’t approximate the weight of the load or question the stability of the surface under the stabilizers, don’t perform the lift. “With any proposed lift, the operator needs to know the estimated weight of the object being lifted (including material handling devices), and the stability of the truck,” says Eggers. “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. The owner’s manual of any manufacturer’s unit should provide the operator more specifics regarding this subject.”

Don’t forget the additional weight of any fluids in or accessories bolted to the component being lifts. “It is easy for an operator to underestimate the weight of the intended load,” says Tim Davidson, 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 book’s 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, an operator must read his load chart to know how close his 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 Davidson. “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. Ground conditions, angle of the truck, positioning of the stabilizers and other factors all effect stability.”

After you understand how much you are going to lift and how close the crane needs to be to make the lift, then you need to evaluate the work area. “Assess the work area for potential hazards,” says Davidson. “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.” Analyze the ground beneath the truck to ensure it is flat and provides the best foundation to make a lift.

Then the crane needs to be set up properly. “Proper set-up includes solid stabilizer placement and clearing the work area of trip, fall and electrocution hazards,” says Davidson. “Isolating the work area with safety cones or barricades is also recommended.”

Then it is time to perform the lift. “The first thing we tell operators is to always have your load as close to the ground at as possible at all times,” says Davidson. “This results in the least chance of damage to person or material should something go wrong.”

Make sure you are positioned correctly for the lift. “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. A hand signal chart is provided with each Maintainer unit and is required by OSHA.”

“Crane operators should never perform a lift when they cannot see their load,” says Worman. “If the visibility is obstructed, an operator should use a signal person who has a clear view od the load and can communicate with the operator. Operator signals may be by hand, voice, audible or some other agreed-upon method.”

You also need to 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.”

“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,” notes Worman.

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 Brian Belisle, 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.

Maximize stability

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 really depends upon the manufacturer and load. “If a stability chart has a section that shows stability for your vehicle with stabilizers partially deployed, then it would be permissible as per the stability charts information,” says Davidson. “If the manufacturer’s stability chart only shows stabilizers fully deployed, then stabilizers should be fully deployed for all lifts.

Operators should always be cognizant of ground conditions to ensure that the unit maintains stability when performing 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.

Beslile adds, "Use outtrigger 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.”

Be sure to position the truck for the lift. "Off theback of the truck is the most stable position for crane operation," says Beslisle. "Never pick a load while over the cab."

"To position the truck body for a heavy lift, the operator should back the truck up to the load, allowing enough room to position the crane and perform the lift,” says Worman.

Consider all variables

Ground conditions due to weather, wind and the condition of the lifting equipment and rigging can all influence the safety of a lift. “Wind does play a small factor into any lift,” notes Eggers. “Excessive winds 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 adds, “Wind can be a significant factor in the safety of a lift. 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 susceptable to wind. Beslile explains light, large loads can be distupted by winds. "Tethering the load will help with the handling. However, if the wind is too strong for safe handling, AutoCrane recommends delaying the lift until more stable conditions exist."

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,” explains Davidson. “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 CDT operating system features a ‘safe mode’. “The CDT system continuously monitors safety devices to ensure they are operating correctly,” says Davidson. “If these devices are disabled or for some reason stop working properly, than our CDT cranes will enter ‘safe mode’ and display error codes. Safe mose 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’.”

Always be aware of your surroundings, below, above and around you. “Know what you are lifting, advises Eggers. “Know the condition of the crane you are operating by keeping good records of the required annual, periodic and frequent inspections. Any safety device that is not operating properly needs to be replaced immediately.”