Canadian oil producer Syncrude has begun an initiative to protect crane operators and maintenance staff from falls while working on mobile cranes.

The initiative is featured in the January 2004 issue of Cranes Today, which is now out.

Many mobile crane rigging jobs have to be carried out at heights of anything from 2m to 5m from the ground ­ plenty high enough to cause a lost time injury, or worse. Installing sheaves and lifting attachments, greasing the boom or respooling cable on a winch all require workers to be on top of the crane carrier. Andy Ciupa, Syncrude corporate senior loss advisor, says that Syncrude has had 35 falling incidents over the past 12 years.

To get to grips with the issue, the company hosted a two-day workshop near its headquarters in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, in November. ‘One thing that was very obvious in planning and executing this workshop was that everyone in the crane industry struggles trying to apply fall protection legislation/ regulation to mobile cranes,’ Ciupa says.

At the seminar, 45 representatives of crane owners and manufacturers got together. Crane rental companies represented included Mammoet, Sterling Crane, Canada Crane, Northern Crane and LaPrarie Crane. Manufacturers represented were Liebherr Werk Ehingen, Terex-Demag, Manitowoc-Grove, Tadano and Sennebogen.

Although Syncrude has a fleet of only 22 mobile cranes, it employs another 150 or so from crane rental companies to support its operations. ‘[Syncrude] is a very important customer,’ says Liebherr design manager Hans-Dieter Willim, who attended the meeting. ‘Their market power is very strong. If they tell suppliers not to deliver a crane that is not suitable, then they cannot bring in the crane.’

‘The two day session ended with some very good detail of the fall exposures to people who work on and around mobile cranes,’ Ciupa says. ‘We are currently working out the next steps which includes working with the crane owners and manufacturers to reduce the fall exposures on older equipment and new cranes we are purchasing.’ Syncrude expects to have a fall protection plan and work practices established by August.

The meeting seems to have nudged the manufacturers into action as well. ‘This gives us now another push, so we will increase our safety on these machines,’ Willim says.

The problem with changes, says Willim, is that they make the crane more expensive. ‘Only when everybody is involved can you do it,’ he says.

Although Willim says that he believes all the manufacturers are now planning safety improvements, he is less clear on the standards for those changes. ‘You can do a lot or the minimum. You can do it perfectly or as slight as possible.’

‘I see the workshop as a kind of kick-off for further steps,’ says Klaus Meissner, research and development director at Terex-Demag. ‘I believe that it has started a long-term process of coming improvements on mobile cranes.’

Meissner says that customer requirements ‘include guardrails on platforms and standing areas and handholds and steps to allow always three point support for better and safer support during access and egress. These requirements have to be reviewed with respect to the new forthcoming safety standards.’

But he adds that the meeting did not solve every single problem. ‘The discussion for better protection during working ­ greasing of sheaves, for example ­ when the worker should fasten himself to the crane or its parts was raised, but could not finally be solved. Especially the areas and operations where this fastening would require an anchor point in the (free) air above the worker’s shoulder, such as assembly of counterweight, will be the issue for future discussions,’ Meissner says.

Willim says that it is not worthwhile to have mounting points for personal fall arrestors all over mobile cranes, since they are not effective for falls of three or four metres. Fall arrestors become valuable really only on longer falls.

Despite unresolved issues, changes have already begun. ‘There are some great examples of handrails and platforms being developed for newer cranes,’ says Ciupa.

Liebherr is now designing foldable ladders and stairs on all its new cranes, Willim says, and visitors to the Bauma fair in Munich in March/April will see these features on some of Liebherr’s new cranes. Terex/Demag and other manufacturers will also be showing off the latest fall protection measures on their cranes as well.