Practicing Crane Safety

Cranes are powerful pieces of equipment, so it is imperative to practice smart safety when they’re on the jobsite.

By Alexandra Walsh

Cranes are tremendously powerful pieces of equipment that can play an important role at water well drilling sites. Cranes are also potential hazards, as both the cranes themselves and the loads they carry can cause harm when improperly handled.

From 2011 to 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 297 deaths involved cranes. More than 50% of those deaths resulted when workers were struck by crane objects or equipment; more than 20% involved the crane operator. These statistics highlight the need for safety at all stages of crane operation: traveling, setting up, rigging, and lifting.

Here are some crane safety best practices to prevent accidents on the way to or at the drill site.

Select the Right Crane for the Job

Safe crane operation begins with choosing the correct type of crane. Cranes are either fixed or mobile. Fixed cranes are generally used in industrial settings or in complex or tall construction projects.

Mobile cranes come in many varieties, so make sure to select the right crane for the site.

  • Carry deck crane: These cranes are highly mobile and feature easy setup and rotation, but they don’t handle well on rough terrain.
  • Crawler crane: These cranes use tracks instead of rubber wheels, and are excellent for sites with soft terrain.
  • Rough-terrain crane: These cranes, although they cannot travel on public roads, can handle well on difficult grades and tough terrain.
  • All-terrain crane: These cranes are versatile and have the advantage of being able to travel on their own to jobsites and handle rough terrain once they arrive.

There are dozens of crane types to choose from. Safety starts with picking the right crane for each unique drill site.

Employ Qualified Personnel

Safe operation of cranes demands trained personnel for setting up, rigging, signaling, and operation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has standards and regulations that require only trained, certified, and properly evaluated individuals to operate cranes on jobsites.

Make sure all regulations are adhered to and qualified personnel are being used to operate cranes at all times. Give crane operators the right education and crane operation training. Not only does it improve the safety of the worksite, but it makes it clearly known that only qualified workers are operating heavy equipment.

Avoid Two-Way Blocking

This occurs when the load block or auxiliary ball comes in contact with the crane’s boom nose, boom extension, or auxiliary nose. Two-way blocking can cause serious damage to a crane.

The operator and spotters should know where the crane’s parts are at any given moment and know where the load block or auxiliary ball is in relation to the boom and boom extension to prevent an accident.

Check Personal Protective Equipment

Reducing hazards on the worksite is always important, but it’s impossible to make cranes 100% safe. As such, anyone working on or near the crane should wear proper personal protective equipment. Basic PPE equipment such as hard hats, eye protection, hand protection, and steel-toed boots should be used at a minimum, but certain situations may require additional safeguarding equipment.

Read Operator Manuals

Even when employing qualified personnel, it is important to remember that cranes from different manufacturers have their own unique controls, fail-safe devices, and features. Anyone operating or working with cranes should have a detailed understanding of the specific crane being used. The operator’s manual includes vital information about:

  • Load capacities
  • Safety mechanisms
  • Stabilizers and counterweights
  • Operator controls.

The operator’s manual should be read in full before operating any crane.

Conduct Daily Operator Checks

A crane operator should use a daily inspection checklist to ensure the crane is safe prior to operation.

These inspections include pre-start checks, engine start-up checks, and safety system checks.

  • Before starting the crane, the operator should check tire condition, oil levels, seat belts, the air reservoir, and the battery.
  • Before work begins, the operator should start the engine, check the pressure gauge, fuel level, turn signals, horn, suspension, and brain system.
  • Most importantly, safety system checks should be performed to prevent catastrophic accidents. The anti-two block, the rated capacity limiter, and outriggers should all be evaluated.

Additionally, operators should perform a series of hydraulic system checks.

Avoid or Clear Obstacles During Travel

Prior to movement, a path should be planned and cleared of all obstacles. Hazards that cannot be moved, like power lines or other permanent features, should be avoided. The operator should always keep a safe distance.

A signal person should always lead the crane during travel, making sure to alert the crane operator to potential hazards and warn other site personnel about the crane’s movement.

Check for Potential Electrical Hazards

One of the most dangerous situations for crane operators is potential electrical hazards. Regulations require that cranes stay at least 10 feet away from power lines up to 50,000 volts.

To reduce this hazard, a check for electrical hazards should be included in the pre-job checklist. Any power sources should be identified to determine what equipment is safe for use.

Stabilize Crane Before Rigging

Mobile cranes use outriggers or other stabilizing features to prevent the crane from tipping over during operation. When stabilizing the crane, keep the following in mind:

  • Follow manufacturer’s guidelines to determine how far to extend outriggers.
  • Always use outrigger pads or crane pads underneath outriggers.
  • Never place outriggers over voids, depressions, or unsteady ground.

Many crane accidents and tip-overs occur due to improperly setting up outriggers, so be certain that you’ve made a solid safety assessment of outrigger placement.

Rig the Load Correctly

Proper rigging of loads prevents objects from falling and potentially striking workers on the site.

When rigging a load, operators and other workers should take note and consider:

  • It is possible to attach slings to a load in a variety of ways, so consider the object being lifted as well as the weight distribution of the object. Basket hitching and choker hitching are two of the most common hitch configurations.
  • Whenever an angle other than vertical is used, additional forces are induced on the slings, reducing their overall weight capacity. Make sure to use slings that are properly rated not only for the weight, but also for the weight at a particular angle.

A complete understanding of force, weight distributions, and rigging techniques will provide a safe, stable lift of even the most irregular and heavy loads.

Understand Load Radius

To safely operate a crane, it is important the operator understand how a crane works and what forces are working against it. One of the most important ideas to understand is load radius, which essentially means the farther away the load is from the center of the crane, the less weight the crane can manage without tipping over or collapsing.

Load radius is affected by the angle of the boom as well as the length of any extensions on a telescopic crane. When the angle of the boom is higher (pointed more toward the sky), the load is closer to the crane’s centerline and the boom can carry more weight. When the angle of the boom is lower (closer to level with the ground), the load is farther from the centerline and the boom can hold less weight.

Pay Attention to Load Limits

Although many modern cranes include load-moment indicators and rated-capacity limiters, crane operators should still know how to read load charts in order to prepare for a safe lift.

When reading load charts to determine if a lift is safe, the crane operator should keep the following in mind:

  • On rubber vs. outriggers: A crane can hold much more weight when it’s on outriggers rather than on tires alone, and the load chart has different columns to represent this.
  • Rotation: A crane can hold more weight if the boom stays over the front of the crane throughout the lift, whereas capacity is much lower if the boom will need to swing, so make sure to look at the correct column.
  • Load radius: The higher the load radius, the less weight the crane can lift. Load charts typically do not cover every possible radius, so always refer to the next highest radius to ensure that you stay within safe limits.

Load charts are the most essential tool for planning a safe lift and preventing crane failure or tip-over.

Be Alert for High Wind

Unexpected wind gusts can wreak havoc on a mobile crane mid-lift. High winds can knock a crane over or cause a load to be dropped.

To help reduce the chances of wind interfering, check the crane load capacity charts for wind speed notes. Maximum wind speed may vary across manufacturers and crane types.

In the event this information cannot be located, lifts should be postponed if the wind is in the range of 15 to 20 miles per hour. If wind speeds stay above 20 mph, the lift should be canceled or postponed until later. In the event of inclement weather approaching, all operations should cease.

Use Proper Communication and Hand Signals

A standard set of hand signals and communication protocols should be in place to facilitate safe operation of cranes. A qualified signal person can effectively communicate information throughout the lift to a crane operator who can adapt to changes in the lift situation as they occur.

Learning the standard hand signals will enable the following to be communicated to the crane operator:

  • Which direction to travel with the crane
  • When to swing and lift the boom
  • When to hoist and lower the load
  • When to stop the crane or cancel everything.

In addition to hand signals, radios are also used during crane operation to allow for constant communication.


Cranes are important pieces of equipment on many jobsites every day. Make sure you and your team understand the safety procedures that come up with such a big and powerful piece of equipment when it is time to have one at your worksite.

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.