Thursday, August 9, 2018
Making assumptions about lifting and rigging gear without specialist knowledge is naive, says Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd.
I heard a story the other day that sent shivers down my spine. I’ll be careful about sharing details because of an inevitable accident investigation, but the gist of it was that a load of significant weight was dropped when a rigging device failed. It was in an environment where a permanent crane is used occasionally by numerous operatives. It doesn’t matter where in the world if was or what work takes place there. The point is, this incident could have happened anywhere where a lack of attention is paid to ensuring lifting applications are safe.
In my experience, the majority of jobsites, particularly here in the UK, are well run but incidents continue to happen due to safety oversights. And it’s important not to assume that a workplace that uses lifting and rigging gear is safe just because they haven’t experienced an accident recently. One could be waiting to happen if, say, slings aren’t being visually inspected before each use or not subject to periodic inspection in line with the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).
(Let’s assume that everyone understands the importance of reporting all incidents, even near misses. That’s how we learn so they don’t happen again.)
Ignorance sometimes stems from an assumption that the practices being observed in a facility are safe. My company has recently conducted training sessions at sites where lifting equipment has been utilised for many years. However, while they felt that they were competent and experienced in the application of cranes and rigging tools, actually they were not aware of basic lifting principles because they had been “educated” by fellow employees when they joined who were actually relaying bad practice.
Imagine how quickly this can spread though a facility, particularly one with a high turnover of staff or rapidly growing personnel.
Do the maths
Sling forces and basic geometry are often overlooked. Most people understand the physics behind a single leg sling hooked directly onto one pick point, but we often sense a lack of due consideration when multiple slings are used. Slings are typically rated for an angle range of 0-45 degrees but did you know that when a greater angle is needed they have a lower rating? It remains simple mathematics but things are complicated further when there’s a requirement to use different angles in the same rig. Shock loading is another important factor.
“Don’t worry, it’ll hold,” isn’t good enough.
Improvisation isn’t a word I like to hear from end users, particularly when they’re talking about rigging equipment. It’s remarkable that we still see photos and videos that work their way around the industry—faster now than ever before—showing “homemade” below-the-hook devices or lifting frames.
It’s worth reiterating that the person “manufacturing” such equipment is liable for the item. Legislation goes beyond testing certification. Here in the UK, a manufacturer or, if they’re from outside the EU, their appointed authorised representative, must compile a technical file for each product they place on the market (or one for a series of identical products) as required by the relevant European product safety directive. Further, a CE mark is required for all new products that are subject to one or more of these European product safety directives.
Next time an end user is thinking about applying their own mathematical theorem or expertise in another field of engineering to a crane lift, they should consider a design suite at a top spreader beam manufacturer. There, super-educated, experienced engineers use all kinds of software and computer-aided design (CAD) to carefully construct below-the-hook solutions. They factor in load shape, size, centre of gravity, rigging, cranes, weather, site environment, and more. Often, they opt for cascading configurations or custom solutions, such is the science that needs to be applied to safe application of their tools.
It’s never too late to improve safety practices.
Any readers of this blog, who are new to a supervisory role at a site, or wonder if their protocols could do with an overhaul, shouldn’t hesitate. Put a plan in place, start an equipment register, and engage with experts in their field.
I always recommend an end user works with a specialist lifting equipment company on anything related to cranes or hoists. There are one-stop-shop hire businesses out there—plenty of them—that stock a variety of products, but far too many have a diluted pool of experience when it comes to lifting gear. And it’s a mistake to approach the supply of any lifting-related product or service with a tool-hire mentality. I don’t like the mindset that this is plug-and-play kit, like renting a carpet cleaner to spruce up a living room one spring.
As I’ve blogged about before, good things to look for are membership in the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), the world’s leading representative body for all those involved in the industry; and recognition by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO 9001:2015, for example, is based on a number of quality management principles including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, and continual improvement. Also decipher whether a company offers renowned training and carries out LOLER inspections. If they tick all these boxes there’s a good chance they’ll be well equipped to oversee most things related to lifting and rigging.
It doesn’t matter how much or how little lifting gear is on a site. Slings should always be kept in a dry, safe area; and systems should be in place so thorough examination is completed in line with LOLER, to name just two important factors. At sites where rigging products are rarely used, there can be a tendency to forget about them and important inspections get overlooked. Regardless of how watertight or secure a rigging loft is, never assume a product is fit for purpose upon getting it out for use, especially if many weeks or months have past since its previous application.
What if it was damaged upon last usage before being returned to the loft?
We’re getting there, but there is some way to go before our sector is as safe as it could—and should—be.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd