The overarching purpose of a crane and rigging safety conference is to provide participants with ideas they can take back to the job site. They don’t usually put those ideas into action at their work places while the conference is still happening, though.
Yet that’s precisely what Jay Rivard did during the fourth annual Crane and Rigging Canada Conference in Edmonton, Alberta. A structural general foreman in the fabrication division of industrial contractor JV Driver Ltd., Rivard was so moved by a crane insurance expert’s presentation that he booked compaction tests at a project he was working on to ensure that it would support a 65-ton rough-terrain crane needed to unload materials at the site.
During the conference, Kevin Cunningham, CEO of the construction division of Houston International Insurance Group, noted that crane accidents can involve multiple causes, including ground conditions. “When you think about it, that is in no way shape or form the crane operator’s responsibility,” Cunningham said. “There are multiple potential responsible parties.”
That made Rivard realize he needed to have the ground tested to determine if it could support the crane. “Turns out the ground that was in there could not,” said Rivard. So by the end of the day, he had quotes from an excavator contractor to rip out the soil and put in a new base. “And I think the work should be starting this afternoon,” Rivard said the day after Cunningham’s presentation.
Mentoring for safety
Fraser Cocks, executive director of the B.C. Association for Crane Safety, set the tone for the conference during his keynote address. He recounted experiences from his morning commute by train to his office in Vancouver in which he would listen in on the conversations of a group of electricians.
One day the topic turned to safety. Cocks was taken aback by a prevailing attitude that safety rules were something they “had to put up with,” even though they worked in a potentially dangerous vocation. One of the men, despite being pressed by his peers, remained adamant that he wouldn’t intervene if somebody was acting unsafely on the job, and that he’d even care if someone died on the job. “It has nothing to do with me,” Cocks recalled him saying. “I’m just here to collect a paycheck.”
He contrasted that attitude with that of his former lineman father, whose co-workers included war veterans who looked out for each other even when the safety regulations of the time weren’t nearly as stringent as they are today.
Cocks said he presented the story as food for thought about how those in the crane industry should approach mentoring younger people in the trade. “If they’re not on board with the perspective that we’re trying to instill in them, how do we influence that change?” he asked.
Examining crane accidents
Cunningham paired up with Jim Wiethorn, principal engineer with Haag Engineering of Sugar Land, Texas, who literally wrote the book on crane accidents, which examined 507 crane accidents from 1983 to 2013. The most surprising finding of his research, Wiethorn told the conference, concerned the occupational category that had the most deaths from those crane accidents. It wasn’t crane operators, riggers, or signallers, he pointed out. It was other field personnel, such as concrete finishers. “They have nothing to do with the lift. They are just on the job site,” Wiethorn said.
Of the 147 deaths in those 507 cases he documented, 51 were of those other field personnel, compared with 38 operator deaths and 24 riggers who were killed.
“I don’t know about Canada but we have a lot of problems with…zones to keep people out. But invariably they come through the yellow tape,” Wiethorn said. His prescription for that: “If it’s a ‘no personnel zone,’ keep them out. Period.”
The conference also featured hands-on exercises designed to prevent the accidents that Wiethorn has followed. Engineer Yannick Morin, president of Montreal-based Kraning Inc., led an interactive workshop in which participants broke into groups and to figure out how to rig a load. Mike Parnell, president of Industrial Training International, led a similar session on lift planning.
Parnell used five volunteers, a table, and a tape measure to demonstrate how removing the tension on one of four pick points would reduce the load on the opposite corner but increase it on the other two.
Vic Kaila, a key account representative with Edmonton-based Titan Supply, said that demonstration was the most impressive part of the conference for him. “I’m learning about actual lifts and how they actually do the lifting,” said Kaila, who has only been in the industry for months. “That’s great for us to understand.”
Titan, which makes and sells slings and other lifting accessories, was among several firms with table-top displays at the conference. Other exhibitors included Unirope Ltd., Associated Wire Rope & Rigging Inc., RUD Chain Inc., Modulift, the Crosby Group, and Liebherr-Canada Ltd.
Wayne Wille, product manager with Minnesota-based Dillon Force Management, said he was most impressed with the presentation by Liebherr’s Tim Petersen and Bob Van-Engelen of the company’s VarioBase system that enables any crane outrigger to be extended to any length. That feature allows those cranes to set up in confined areas yet still boom out much further than would otherwise be safely possible.
Promoting “chronic unease”
Also presenting at the conference were Denis Hogan, of the U.K.-based Lifting Equipment Engineers Association, and Knut Buschmann, president of Unirope. Buschmann’s session was a sequel to his 2012 presentation on his experiments with wire rope in ultra cold conditions.
Nine employees of industrial contractor JV Driver, including Rivard, took part in a panel discussion led by Vawn Jeddry, the firm’s vice-president of health, safety and environment. Jeddry revealed how through teamwork, employing the concept of “chronic unease,” and training through ITI, her company reduced crane and hoisting rigging incidents dramatically this year. Those incidents went from 26% of all incidents in 2013 to just 1% in 2014.
The conference closed with an update from the Canadian Hoisting & Rigging Safety Council, which had its genesis at the inaugural conference in 2011. Cocks had announced in his keynote address that he had recently stepped aside from his role as council chairman to allow an industry representation to take the lead. The new chairman is Tim Bennett, vice-president of HS&E, technical training and quality with Edmonton-based NCSG Crane & Heavy Haul Inc.
While the focus of the conference was on the serious subject of safety, it also had its share of levity. Moderator Tracy Bennett called for volunteers to take part in an exercise where two teams had to prepare instructions for designated aliens on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Those aliens were JV Driver employees Cheryl Hoskins, a project engineer, and Duncan Smith, a structural ironworker and HSE manager. Hilarity ensued as they both followed their team’s instructions literally. Smith punch his fist through the seal of the peanut butter jar while Hoskins performed an ersatz marriage ceremony to unite the two bread slices. You had to be there.
“It’s been fantastic,” Hoskin said on a more serious note. “I think it’s been a good mix of technical and practical and theoretical.”