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.
If faced with losing your business or joining competitors that miss-interpret best practice guidance what do you do?
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Bristol, South West, or South Wales Region.