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Obey the rules or lose business?

Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher
Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher

February 14, 2015 - We received an interesting letter recently from a UK crane rental company highlighting a conflict in the UK crane hire market, concerning the rules and best practice guidance/standards that require a separate lift supervisor and crane operator for even relatively simple lifts – not to mention a lift plan and written risk assessment.

An increasing number of companies not only train their crane operators as lift supervisors, but also send such operators out - on typical taxi crane jobs - as both operator and crane supervisor, and in some cases as slinger/signaller as well. With more cranes becoming available with full remote controls, allowing the operator to stand off and observe the lift from the best vantage point, the 'rule benders' have increased justification for their interpretations.

British Standard 7121 and most best practice and Approved Codes of Practice clearly state that operating the crane and acting as lift supervisor at the same time is not permitted: BS7121 says: “If the crane supervisor is also a crane driver, then the crane supervisor should not operate any crane involved in the lifting operation being supervised”.

That seems perfectly clear and yet some rental companies are persuading customers that allowing the operator to do both jobs, not only complies with all the legal or best practice guidelines, but that it will save him money. A good number of contractors/customers are more than happy to accept this assurance, even if they know the opposite to be the case.

So what does a company that follows best practice guidelines and wants to do everything correctly, and by the book do as they lose more and more contract lift business to their slightly less scrupulous competitors? Stick to their principles and risk going out of business, or join in?

Personally I find this challenging as I feel that the crane rules and guidelines in the UK can be somewhat excessive for simple lifts, where a good well trained crane operator is more than competent to rig the load, operate the crane and follow the lift plan, while properly carrying out a risk assessment. In many cases he will of course need a signaller, who also provides a second pair of eyes on the job. Ideally all singer signallers would be trained as lift supervisors. 

The problem with requiring two or three people to carry out a relatively simple crane lift – is that it will not improve safety, as it is more likely to drive customers towards alternatives such as telehandlers with jibs or hooks, loader cranes or in the worst case an excavator with a set of chains. With the operator doing everything as a routine.

However the fact is the rules and guidance are what they are, and if they are wrong they should be changed. A market where the players interpret the rules differently, is a market that is not working.

This is one for the industry as a whole to really thrash out, and update the rules as necessary in order to ensure a good balance between those whose solution is to throw people and paperwork at the job- in the aim to eliminate every possible risk - and those that want to see a more practical and real world solution.

Any amended rule should then be widely communicated – People will follow sound practical rules- and will always bend excessive ones, in the same way they will pay fair taxes while looking to avoid excessive taxes.  

No company should ever feel that they have to gamble between bending the rules – especially safety rules – and making a living.

The letter will be published in full in the February issue of Cranes & Access magazine which will be on-line this week.  We also invite your opinions, comments and feedback on this issue. 


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17. June 2015 17:23

As load sensors, position sensors, and computers take up some of the role of the supervisor, and remote controls reduce the need for signallers, the standards are falling out of date. In the aviation industry, human error is still the main cause of accidents, but technology is being used to reduce it, and the standards are actively maintained to keep up with the changes. The problems are only compounded by HSE trying to keep everything to themselves and slow.

Paul Jones
18. February 2015 16:06

Well said John. It sounds like there are a lot of people who have not read BS7121 part 3.

John Lowton
18. February 2015 15:54

May I refer all, in this debate to a letter from Andrew East HSE Head of Construction. The letter was documented in December 2004, take a look all and refresh your memory! I would have thought the dislikes are from individuals/ companies etc etc who feel it is all like to much hard work. especially when planning for a "Basic Lift" Oh yes if anyone would like a copy of this letter please feel free to give me your contact details and I will send it on to you. With regards to supervision the BS does state that the Crane supervisor can take on the role of the slinger/signaller. I have inserted the definition of a "Basic Lift" If the weight of the load (s) can be simply established, and there are no hazards or obstructions within the area of the operation , then the duties of the Appointed Person should include the following which is a - k. Which you should all be able to reference from your copy of the standard. Thanks, John

Paul Jones
18. February 2015 04:43

Codes of practice and regulations are not just devised and written in a coffee shop One afternoon, they are developed by experts in the industry using experience of lifting operations. Whilst I appreciate websites and forums are for discussion, one has to be careful not to insight unsafe practices. This website has previously promoted verbal method statements and to suggest that a crane operator can operate, supervise and sling the load is simply Bourne from either a lack of knowledge or an aparant wish to cite unsafe practices for the wrong reason. Oh I wonder !!

Paul Jones
17. February 2015 18:08

Well said Mr Lowton, BS7121 states if my memory serves me correctly that a basic lift is where no hazards are present and this type of fit needs a crane operator, slinger signaller and or a crane supervisor, I am intrigued to hear what Vertikal would describe as a simple lift ?

John Lowton
17. February 2015 17:58

I totally agree with Mr Jones on this. When/if a lift goes wrong, try explaining to the HSE that it was a simple lift. No lift is simple! With regards to competency, cards and qualifications, if we are not careful we will be a carded industry rather than a competent one!!

Paul Jones
14. February 2015 18:29

I have never heard so much rubbish, BS7121 states Basic , Standard and complex lift there is no such thing as a "simple lift". Why do people believe that there are things that don't exist. The UK has the best record for crane accidents but people want to try and justify cost cutting by changing rules that have been developed to make the crane rental business safer. I am surprised that this website is posting words like "simple lift" when this clearly doesn't exist. I think the people who wrote British Standards namely the late and great Peter Oram know much more than you and wanting to change his philosophy is very disrespectful to say the least.

Michael Brown
14. February 2015 17:12

I see the future being less manpower intensive as yes it is feasible for good, experienced operators to be both operator & supervisor especially as mentioned with modern remote control plant. But that in its self is a current failing where in modern times inexperienced operators & slingers seem to be racing ahead with qualifications with no due care to be deemed as competent before progression. People with just a few months experience are supervising complex & technically challenging lifts. There is a way forward but it needs to be based on a clearer & stricter career path.


Will we ever learn

Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher

Once again we are on the verge of a major trade war as a tariffs and protectionism are promoted as a simple solution a range of complex issues. Will they work? Are they misguided? Or just a simplistic reaction the challenges of change?



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