It’s common medical advice that when someone has a stroke or heart attack, minutes saved getting them to hospital can be vital to saving their life, or reducing long-term consequences. When a tower crane operator gets ill, hundreds of feet above the ground, how quickly can they be moved from their cab and into an ambulance?

This month, Cranes Today’s Cristina Brooks looks at the problem of getting tower crane operators out of the their cabs and down to the ground in case of a medical emergency.

It is a tricky problem. Many older cabs don’t allow easy access from the outside of the cab. Instead, operators may need to be lifted out from a hatch in the roof. That’s a problem the European industry tackled last year, with the development of a new revision to the tower crane standard, EN 14439. The new standard lays out means of accessing the cab and the area around it, making rescue easier (and also making it safer to work on the crane during rigging).

Once the person is out, it can be a further challenge lowering them down to the ground, particularly if there is no clear line down from the cab. With so many variations of cab design and crane location, it’s not a job that fire and rescue services can easily train for. Instead, the best approach seems to be to make sure that there is a team on site trained on how to access the crane and perform a rescue.

Responsibility for that training falls, generally, on the site contractor. Making a plan for how to conduct a rescue should be part of the risk assessment conducted before you erect a crane.

Planning for how to rescue an operator though is only one aspect of how you look at this risk. Another step, and one that should be at the forefront of your mind when employing operators for tower cranes, or anyone on site, is ensuring that they are medically fit. Much better to select operators who aren’t at high risk of heart attack, say, than to need to rescue someone if they do become ill.

In the UK, the Construction Plant-hire Association recently launched the public consultation for a new guidance document, Medical fitness to operate construction plant. The guidance doesn’t offer a one size fits all template for how to create a policy on medical fitness: that would be impossible, given the variety of plant out there and the different requirements it places on operators. Instead, it tries to lay out a fair and clear approach to drafting a policy. Doing that seems like a good way to start ensuring everyone on your site is as safe as they can be.