Wind energy site safety: cranes

Wind turbine construction requires some of the largest equipment in use today. Lifting components in excess of 90 tons to heights exceeding 300 feet require strict attention to safety.

Every project in the wind industry has unique, project-specific needs, and crane safety should be addressed when assessing project needs. These guidelines provide an overview how to embed crane safety into the project planning process, a step that helps ensure safe project construction.

Hazard analysis

Every wind project requires a hazard analysis of the work being performed. This analysis should include the crane operator’s input and all hazards should be identified prior to crane operation.

Assembly/disassembly

Due to their size, cranes must be disassembled for shipping and reassembled once they arrive at the wind project. Because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires fall protection for heights at six-feet or above, a combination of personal fall protection systems (PFAS), platforms, and/or man-lifts are typically necessary to complete the assembly and disassembly stage.

Inspection

A key component to crane safety is frequent crane inspections. OSHA requires that a competent person be designated to inspect the crane and associated equipment prior to each use. OSHA also requires thorough and documented annual inspections. Inspection items include, but are not limited to:

  • All-wire rope
  • Rigging
  • Belts, pumps
  • Hoses
  • Drive systems
  • Brakes
  • Clutches
  • Computer
  • Anemometer boom
  • Anti-two block device

In addition to the two mandated inspections mentioned above, cranes also should be shut down and re-inspected after any occurrence that could affect the integrity of the crane.

Wind/weather considerations

Wind and weather wreaks havoc with construction schedules. However, Mother Nature and the laws of physics rule when it comes to crane operations. Never exceed the crane or component manufacturer’s charts or recommendations pertaining to wind. Wind speeds should always be determined via a boom tip anemometer. Also, be sure to have a plan in place for lightning safety.

Communication

Communication while performing work in the wind industry is essential. A single signal person may not be adequate for performing lifts. Workers should employ a system wherein qualified, designated people are assigned the responsibilities required to safely and properly signal the components into place. The system should include what methods and tools will be used (i.e. hand signals, radios, etc.) to perform this task.

Operator training & certification

Today’s modern cranes are highly engineered and technically advanced machines that require thoroughly trained and competent operators to ensure safe use. It is imperative that operators are trained and tested on the specific type of crane used. Operator certification through an accredited crane/derrick operator testing organization is suggested. Specific state legislation requires the use of a certified crane operator (CCO) licensed crane operator. Check with your state regulations to determine if there are specific cane operator training requirements.

Ground pressures & travel paths

Many crane incidents are due to inadequate bearing surfaces. Whether you are hoisting a load or simply walking the crane, bearing pressures and ground surface capabilities should be determined with each activity. During all major component lifts, crane mats should be placed on top of the crane pad.

Crane travel limits

All cranes should have a published chart indicating the travel guidelines for “walking or traveling” the crane. Considerations for the maximum percent grade, side slope and boom position should be accounted for when planning the roadways and especially when traveling the crane. In addition, all overhead and underground obstacles should be discussed and marked for safe crane travel.

Control of the lift area

Once ready to make a lift, a safe zone for all non-essential personnel should be established. Essential personnel operations should be planned and supervised so that no one is working under the boom or lifted component.

Lift plans

Lift plans should be provided for each major component lift to the crane operator prior to performing the work. The operator should keep the lift plans on hand to ensure that each lift falls within the plans made. Lift plans should have basic information such as crane configuration, component weights, rigging requirements and weights, crane capacities, crane pad requirements and so forth. The more information that can be provided to the operator the safer the work site will be.

Refer to OSHA’s Construction Industry Regulations – 29CFR1926 for specific references on operating cranes safely during the act of construction. Specific regulations relating the safe operations of cranes are, but not limited to:

  • §1926.500 – Subpart R – Fall Protection
  • §1926.550 – Subpart N – Cranes, Derricks, Hoists, Elevators, and Conveyors (anticipated updated
    final rule publication July 2010)
  • §1926.750 – Subpart R – Steel Erection