Crane Company Calls for National Crane Operator Registry

A few weeks ago I was telling a friend about my company and how proud I am to work here. It's a company that fosters a safe, productive environment for its operators. In 30 years, we've never had a crane accident, and I never thought for a second that we would ever turn a crane over • yet, as hard as it is for me to say • we did just that.

As a safety manager, I have often used details of crane accidents in my training. Until recently, my material came from the unfortunate incidents of others. But when a crane owned by my company was involved in a tip-over accident, it was apparent that talking about it so others might learn was better than burying the issue.

Southwest Industrial Rigging has the best crane operators on the West Coast • bar none. We hand pick them, hiring only union, CCO-certified operators. We have a safety program that includes a “no override” policy and a work environment in which an operator's decision to not make a lift is supported from the managers all the way up to the president and owner of our company.

Making use of the load indicating systems installed on our cranes, our policy is that under no circumstances is an operator allowed to override the system in order to make a pick. According to Harry Baker, president, “Load indicating systems are designed to help our people make good decisions; they are an operator's aid. In addition, operators are not paid to make the kinds of decisions that would call for overriding the system. If the crane is not big enough for the job or is not properly positioned, then something about the job needs to be changed so the operator can make the lift within our 'no override' guidelines.”

So how did we get to the point where we turned over a crane? The bottom line is that the operator violated policy. He pushed a button to override the system so that he could move the load from his most stable position directly over the rear of the carrier to his least stable position over the side. The load was raised about 20 feet in the air and when the overloaded crane swung past the outrigger the crane overturned.

More than five people, including myself, investigated the accident. We all came to the same conclusion: operator error. Yet, operator error is a poor description of the incident when it wasn't just a mistake but a blatant disregard for policy. So despite our best efforts to establish a strong safety culture and to hire the most qualified people, we are still faced with the reality of an accident.

Now what? While SWIR's pride is a bit bruised, our reputation is far from tarnished. Meanwhile the operator, who was fired on a Saturday was operating a crane for one of our competitors the following Monday. If he applies at your company, would you want to hire him? How will you know that this CCO-certified crane operator previously bypassed an LMI and overturned a crane? Doesn't everyone deserve a second chance? While I generally consider myself a fair man, when I found out that this operator might have done the same thing before, I was very upset.

I want to see a national registry for CCO-certified operators containing information on their work accident history. Seeking certified operators when hiring is only the first step; a registry would serve to individually validate the general premise behind the card. The concept is not unlike what is available for CDL operators where insurance companies keep records of accidents involving the commercial vehicle.

This has always been a proactive industry that rarely waits for new standards to be put into place. Most of us have already seen the benefit of having CCO operators. This is simply the next step in improving the professionalism of this industry.

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About the Author: 

Howard Kaplan

Howard Kaplan is the safety manager for Southwest Industrial Rigging in Phoenix. He has an extensive background in the heavy equipment industry as an operator and instructor. After working for 13  years as a heavy equipment operator for the Navy - 10 of which involved cranes and material handling for an amphibious construction battalion in San Diego - Kaplan was a material handling instructor and trainer. He is a certified crane operator with CCO, holding all four specialties. He can be reached at hkaplan@swirusa.com.