What You Need to Know About Crane Operation in Inclement Weather
While inclement weather tends to denote weather that has severe cold or rain, here we will define it as any extreme weather that poses a risk to people or machinery working on a job site. And weather extremes aren’t just relegated to the depths of summer or winter. Severe storms, winds, or rain can often pop up with little notice throughout the year.
Cranes are tricky, highly technical pieces of construction machinery that require proper maintenance, site preparation, and training to operate safely. There is a serious risk of crushing injury or property damage if loads are improperly secured or the crane is controlled incorrectly.
Before you can prepare for operating cranes in bad weather, you need to have a solid foundation for safe operations in even the best circumstances.
Always Be Prepared for Safe Operations
We have discussed the importance of safety when operating cranes in detail before. You can read more in our article concerning the 5 Things You Need to Know About Operating Cranes. Here are the key takeaways for instilling a safety-first approach to crane usage.
- Prepare: Follow OSHA regulations regarding site layout and electrical line distances. Cranes should always be on flat, firm ground, with no exceptions.
- Train: All worksite employees should know the basics of crane operation, including OSHA hand signals, proper PPE, and moving around equipment. Operators, riggers, and spotters must be appropriately qualified for their job.
- Inspect: Perform daily site, machine, and risk assessments. Be aware of the weather or any changes overnight or over the course of a workday.
- Maintain: Cranes should not only be inspected daily but also serviced regularly to maintain peak operational capacity.
- Secure: Double-check the weight, orientation, and hoist security of every load.
- Communicate: Have daily check-ins with all operators and site managers on personnel and equipment statuses. Verify communication channels work between operational personnel, including hand signals, air horns, or radios.
In addition to work site and personnel safety steps, it is vital to make sure the crane you have will be able to perform the needed lifts. Since you can’t plan for inclement weather, it is always better to select a crane that can do a little more than what you might need in terms of lift distances and weight. Having a buffer ensures that you will still be within tolerances when conditions go south.
Types of Inclement Weather and Best Practices for Safe Operations
Oftentimes the safest inclement weather operation you can have is to stop operating the crane until the weather event passes. Crane operation on sites is one of the highest sources of potential danger on a good day. Fighting any type of weather only increases that, no matter how well trained or safety-focused your crews are.
That said, more often than not, you will find yourself needing to complete work on a non-ideal weather day that does not quite reach a point to which operations should cease. Below we have some of our best practices for operating cranes in each type of adverse weather condition and tips on how to determine when poor weather crosses the threshold into inclement weather.
1. Frigid Cold
Cold temperatures can make construction work uncomfortable, but as the thermometer drops to or below freezing, conditions start to become problematic. Cold temperatures can inhibit workers' mental and physical capabilities, steel components increase in their brittleness, seals can become compromised, and lubricants risk freezing.
While you can still operate cranes and other heavy machinery in freezing temperatures, there are several additional safety steps you need to implement throughout the working day or in preparation for a cold snap.
- Provide heated environments where workers can warm up regularly.
- Check sealed joints around components for degradation.
- Insulate motors, and consider installing a heater in the motor area or fuel tank.
- Ensure oil and antifreeze fluids are an appropriate grade for winter temperatures.
- Reserve crane use for daylight hours when it is naturally warmer.
- Have operators warm up the crane systems before any lifts.
Site and crane conditions must be inspected daily by a dedicated safety or site manager. Severe issues often sneak up gradually. It does not matter how well you feel you have winterized the machinery; winter conditions can slowly wear down components.
2. Extreme Heat
Just as cold temperatures can impede safe crane operation, extreme heat comes with a new set of safety concerns. During heatwaves, special attention needs to be paid during daily machine assessments to damage caused by heat expansion. Verify crane fluids are at appropriate levels and that pipes and seals are free of leaks.
Your other concern is worker safety. High temperatures are compounded by the glass and metal structures of cranes, causing temperatures inside the cab to skyrocket beyond forecasted temperatures. To reduce the risk of operators suffering from heatstroke, try to implement the following:
- Supply ample water for workers.
- Cover exposed skin to minimize sunstroke risk, especially the back of the neck.
- Keep an OSHA recommended wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) monitor in the crane cab; when it becomes unsafe, have operators take frequent breaks or cease operations.
- Know the signs of heatstroke, and designate a safety person to spot early symptoms.
It may be tempting for workers to limit heavy clothing, but hot weather is no excuse to reduce the wearing of PPE. Set aside an area in the shade with fans where workers can rehydrate and cool off. Heatstroke is a severe acute condition that can lead to confusion or loss of consciousness at the job site. And if left untreated can lead to organ failure or death.
3. High-Velocity Winds
Strong winds can crop up any time of year as cold and warm fronts move through. Gusting winds are often the most significant factor in determining whether or not crane operations need to cease.
If winds are regularly hitting even a minimum of 20 miles per hour, your machine's lifting capacity is at the point where it will become derated. And even if you are still within limits on weight, gusts impose a risk of lifts swinging into areas they shouldn’t. Many city ordinances ban operation when wind speed gets too high precisely because of the risk of lifted loads hitting structures or people.
Pay attention to your closest local weather station for wind speeds and consider implementing a wind speed monitor on-site for more accurate readings. Where your site sits, such as between narrow streets, on mountains or hillsides, or in areas lacking tree cover, can enhance what might be a usually mild wind.
4. Snow, Ice, Hail, and Sleet
A light snowfall may not necessitate halting crane operations, but any form of icing, hail, or sleet should temporarily suspend performing lifts. Once a heavy snowfall or ice precipitation event has passed, you need to thoroughly inspect, clean, and dry the crane before resuming operations.
Pay special attention to completing the following:
- Clear the crane of all snow before operation begins.
- Deice tracking and mechanical components.
- Note any site changes due to precipitation, like lowered power lines that now fall out of OSHA requirements.
Solid precipitation impacts visibility on the site more than any other. If at any point visibility is hampered by falling precipitation, it is time to call off lifting. Site safety relies heavily on line of sight, both from the operator and spotters, but other personnel moving about the site.
If they can’t gauge distances or easily read hand signals, your site safety is at risk.
5. Heavy Rain
When any amount of rain hits a job site, from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour, it is best to step back and assess whether to put your crane to rest until the clouds pass.
Specific crane components, including braking systems and the clutch, are generally not waterproof and can suffer damage if operated when wet. But heavy rains that we often see with spring and summer storms can pose a substantial risk to ground and site conditions, on top of machinery concerns.
Downpours can quickly erode dirt around job sites, especially if final grading has not been completed, putting heavy machinery of all types, including cranes, at risk of toppling over during lifts. And just like snow and solid precipitation, heavy rain reduces visibility, making visual communication and depth perception difficult or impossible for crews.
6. Thunder and Lightning
There is no denying that cranes are often the tallest pieces of machinery on job sites. That height, and their primarily metal construction, puts them at increased risk of drawing lightning strikes when storms are in the vicinity. If your area is forecast to have storms, it is always best to cease operations.
Getting hit by lightning can cause significant damage to cranes and risk injuring operators or personnel located around the crane. Cranes rely on electrical safety systems that high currents can knock out, causing loads to unexpectedly drop or movement controls to become erratic.
Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from any significant rain or storm boundary. Portable lightning detectors are relatively inexpensive and can alert you to any strikes within this radius.
Your general rule of thumb is if you can hear thunder, it is time to clear the crane operation until it passes entirely. If a storm forms quickly and you see lightning, halt operations and move crews away as fast as safely possible.
Safety First Crane Rental
The best tools for operating a crane safely no matter the weather is communication and proper training. With over 40 years of moving and operating cranes, Parker’s Crane Service has the experience you need for safe, reliable crane operations no matter the season or weather.
We pride ourselves on safety and our Zero Accident Philosophy and conduct many detailed safety measures when performing a job to ensure that no project carries unnecessary risk. We perform the following for every single job we take:
- Pre-lift Job Assessments
- Daily Risk Assessments
- On-site Hazard Analysis
- Routine Management Audits
With a fleet of well-maintained hydraulic truck cranes, we offer not only the best equipment but can also help with site installation, maintenance, and operation. Our crew is OSHA and MSHA compliant to ensure your site and crew safety.
Contact us today If you’d like more information on how we can help you with your current or planned job.