Safety Training Overview For the Future

With the crane certification and training arena changing drastically (accidents spurring government regulations, OSHA-related compliance certification deadlines and much more), American Cranes & Transport Magazine rounded up some of the industry's gurus and proposed a number of questions for them to answer. Below you'll see thoughts from Billy Smith, executive vice president of claims and risk management for NBIS; Debbie Dickinson, executive director of Crane Institute of America Certification (CIC); and Camille Singletary, sales and marketing administrator for the Crane Inspection & Certification Bureau and NCCCO test site coordinator.

What do you see as the biggest issue in crane safety today?

Smith: There are several big issues. Some are from the operator perspective and others are from the ground crew perspective. Crane technology is ever-changing and operators need constant training to keep up with this technology.

Cranes are lighter and longer, and setting the crane up properly can be more critical today than ever before. For instance, load charts used to be a metal plate or a few pages in the cab, but now they are three-ring binders full of different configurations. Additionally, and just as important, is the ground crew, many whom call themselves riggers and signal persons. The truth is, though, many of these so called riggers are not qualified. Rigging the load and signaling the crane are just as important in a crane lift as pulling the levers from the seat of the crane.

Singletary: As the industry has changed over the years, so have the challenges relating to formal training costs, compliance requirements, accidents and litigation. The biggest issue with crane safety is convincing top management that training costs give a 300 percent to 400 percent return on investment. Research has shown that the average injury was $40,000 per worker compensation claim in 2012, and over $15 billion dollars in litigation payouts. In spite of these statistics, budget cuts to safety training still seem to be happening in general industry, construction, maritime industry; U.S. government entities and private enterprise. However, we have been seeing requests for audits on crane and rigging programs more often by those that see that cost to be minimal compared to the costs of accidents, injuries and death.

Dickinson: There are several contenders for "biggest issue." One is the surprising amount of misinformation circulated about OSHA requirements, which hampers contractors' understanding of the steps they need to qualify and document workers. Another is the ongoing conundrum to complete jobs on or ahead of schedule as a priority that too often trumps safety. The third might be the gap between competence and requirements to do particular tasks. Due to the ups and downs in the economy, training, certification and on-the-job experience may be outdated, or at least stale. For every job, employers and supervisors need to make sure that personnel have the knowledge, skills and ability to work safely, as well as efficiently.

What are the most common types of crane accidents in North America today? How could they be prevented?

Smith: In the fatality data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), they say fatalities working around cranes are caused by power line contact, assembly-disassembly and overturns/struck by. In the accident-only category, which is not actually recorded nationwide like fatality statistics, I believe it's overloading of the crane caused by many factors such as ground condition failure, by-passing the computer (override), improper rigging and rigging failure causing the load to drop and improper configuration of the crane for the lift application.

As far as prevention goes, we need proper training that never ends, certification of the training to make sure it is absorbed and understood, a good management culture that believes in safety before economics and shared responsibility in a lift as the new B30 standards require. Many instances see jobs pressured by time, and when you shortcut a procedure you usually end up cutting a corner or two in the process. The old saying, “measure twice and cut once" is true to get it right. Human error is probably the root cause of many accidents; someone pressured or miscalculated and a failure resulted.

Singletary: It is estimated that 80 percent of crane incidents or accidents occur due to human error. Fifty percent of these accidents occurred with no load on the hook and are associated with crane movement with poor or substandard preparation. Other incidents were the result of power line contact or improper assembly/disassembly of the cranes. How could they be prevented? With crane and rigging operators being responsible for thousands of dollars in equipment and inventory, along with the lives of co-workers, pedestrians and bystanders, proper crane and rigging safety training and/or certification is imperative. Equally important is crane and rigging safety training for crane owners, site managers, supervisors, safety mangers, lift directors and A/D directors.

Dickinson: Accidents occur for a multitude of reasons, but many experts agree that among the more common causes are improper or damaged rigging and incorrect crane set up. Crane safety is greatly enhanced when operators are skilled and knowledgeable in the areas of safe operations, proper set up, correct site evaluation, crane inspection, knowing when components and controls are not in good working order and when operators know how to accurately determine capacity.

By working through a reciprocal crane operator certification program with the British Columbia Crane Safety Association (BCACS), CIC also saw the importance that our neighbors to the North put on an operator's knowledge of rigging. In BC, operators are required to prove knowledge in each of the areas mentioned and in rigging to an advanced level. Safe crane operation cannot be pinned down to one area or one person's responsibility. It takes a crew to make a lift and a skilled, knowledgeable crew to make lifts safe.

Multiple studies by government and private groups have shown that crane operator certification saves lives through reduced accidents.

Cal-OSHA Study (Report on Fatal Crane Related Accidents, June 1, 2002 to May 31, 2008, California Division of Occupational Safety and Health) showed an 80 percent decrease in fatalities despite an increase in the number of cranes active in the state during the time the study was conducted. Center to Protect Workers' Rights examined data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2008 to evaluate crane-related fatality trends. Among the recommendations in the report (Crane-Related Deaths in Construction and Recommendations for Their Prevention) by The Center for Construction Research Training was for operators to become certified by a nationally accredited crane operator testing organization.

Province of Ontario's ongoing study (Crane and Rigging Fatalities, Province of Ontario, Construction Safety Association of Ontario) since 1978 has shown that crane-related fatalities decreased by 80 percent and rigging-related accidents decreased 50 percent.

While certification is a verification of an operator or rigger's knowledge, training must come first. Accidents can be prevented when crews are trained to look for hazards and to know how to mitigate risk in their specific job environments. In addition, employers should not impose short cuts that comprise safety. Short cuts are expensive and dangerous. It doesn't matter how many times an operator has made a particular type of lift. Every lift must be treated with the same attention to safety. Frequency is not a license to cut corners. Supervisors, operators and riggers must be trained and willing to take the time to do each job right.

There seems to be a much greater acceptance of training, certification and the development of a true safety culture in the realm of the crane and transport sector than ever before. What do you think has prompted this acceptance?

Smith: Several factors. Insurance costs keep rising due to accidents, liability judgments are growing, training is always an important factor in an accident, the federal and state government mandates training, and certification is being recognized by the private sector as well as regulators as a means to at least assure some level of training and knowledge has been acquired.

Singletary: There is no question that OSHA 1926 Subpart CC has made a very significant impact to the crane and hoist industry, but also a mixture of genuine concern for safety and economic self-interest appear to be the driving force behind the acceptance of training and safety. Organizations are linking learning to performance and the bottom line, understanding that a highly skilled, knowledgeable workforce is critical to achieving growth and success. Many organizations did not train employees during hard times and are now struggling to catch up, realizing that there is mismatch between the skills the organization needs and the capabilities of the workforce. The number of high skilled, specialized jobs needed to take the organization forward has increased, and a high percentage of baby boomers in the workforce will be leaving soon. Business leaders recognize that employee learning and skills development is crucial to sustaining a competitive advantage, and also improves employee morale, productivity and loyalty.

Dickinson: Historically, the crane industry has been one to push self-regulation. Perhaps because the crane industry is more visible than other sectors of the construction market. Members of organizations like ACRP, AGC, SC&RA, ACRP, CCAA, ASME B30 members and individuals who serve on accredited certification committees dedicate thousands of volunteer hours each year looking for ways to make the industry safer. While Federal and State OSHA boards add emphasis to the call for safety, today's crane industry places intrinsic value on safety. Indeed, the bottom line is that safety is good business. Contractors cannot afford accidents that raise their EMR higher than a 1.0. They lose the right to even have bids considered. Training, certification and a safety culture that demands work be performed safely helps prevent accidents.

Certification has become the norm. But training is required to achieve certification. Quality training + accredited certification = Improved Safety Culture.

What are the biggest obstacles crane and transport companies face in establishing and maintaining a strong safety culture?

Smith: The cost it takes to do it right and keep it going when the times change due to the economy, and I don't always mean the dollars. There are two difficult times to maintain a strong safety culture; one is when the economy busts and the revenue stream falls off. Some owners might be reluctant to spend the dollars it takes to continue to train their employees because of the uncertainty; additionally there may be a feeling that, if I spend the dollars to train an employee and I have to lay them off or they leave on their own they have thrown the money away.

The second challenging time is when the economy is "booming" and everyone is working many hours. The company might be having a hard time meeting contractual obligations; they can't or don't want to take the time it takes to train, also the men themselves are working so many hours they don't want to take their time off away from their family to go to training. Additionally, in both crane and transportation industry, many times the operators and drivers are not local and may be scattered, not only on different jobs but in different states. In the crane and transportation world of an up and down roller coaster ride it's a challenge to get it right and maintain the culture under pressure.

Singletary: One of the obstacles is convincing the top management that the strong safety culture starts at the top, and moves down to the workers. That they are setting the safety culture examples for their peers.

Dickinson: The majority of employers realize that safety pays. Yet, it's common knowledge that profits improve when time and expense are lower. The lure of getting work done faster may tempt an employer to take risks that are unnecessary. Companies with a strong safety culture need checks and balances that deter the "just this one time" risk taker. If the economy rebounds or dips, the drive to be more profitable can compromise safety. Employers can protect themselves, their equipment and personnel by sending clear and frequent messages that safety rules.

Next, the crane and rigging industry has a strong population of workers over the age of 50. With that age comes a wide range of experience. However, in some cases, older operators might not be as familiar and comfortable with the technology that is now common in cranes. On the other end of the spectrum, younger workers may lack the years of experience and jobsite savvy to spot trouble and prevent accidents. Training and certification is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The jobs and personnel need a plan that is flexible enough to teach and assess skill at different levels.

In your estimation, what does it cost to keep a crane and rigging staff trained, certified and up to date annually?

Smith: Less than it costs to continue to have accidents, injure your employees or the employees of others, replace your equipment, or worst, have someone's life end in an accident. Much less!

Singletary: Accidents can cost missed work days, increased insurance rates, OSHA fines, litigation cost and lost business opportunities, and accident investigations or legal procedures that follow can tie up the contractor, the crane company manager and the project owner sometimes for years. The National Safety Council estimates the cost of one lost-time accident approximately $40,000 with punitive damages ranging into the millions of dollars. Money spent on just one lost-time accident could easily cover the cost of providing comprehensive and ongoing safety training programs for operators, site managers and supervisors. The costs for inexperienced and experienced crane and rigging employees Competency and Qualification training and NCCCO certifications vary greatly, depending upon the types of equipment, the industry, OSHA requirements, ANSI/ ASME Bat Industry Compliance, and Corporate Policies and Procedures Compliance.

Dickinson: Depending on the work and how much on the job supervision and training takes place, personnel may need formal training and certification only every three to five years. CIC nationally accredited certifications are valid for five years. For companies that have their own cranes, operators can be trained and certified for $900 to $1,000 when a part of a group of 8 to 12. That averages about $200 a year for training and certification. In addition, the average operator needs four to five days to be trained and tested. Again, looking across five years, that brings us to $200 a year in average cost, plus one day a year amortized over the length of certification. CIC certifications are not crane specific, unless an employer requests crane-specific testing. Thus, typically the cost of a crane is averaged at two days, per group of 8 to 12, amortized over a five year period.


Source: ACT Magazine, January 2014 Issue

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