Winter is still here and outside worksites will feel the brunt of its effect, but there are ways to overcome these issues and teach your team about crane safety. A combination of weather difficulties such as cold temperatures, wind, and rain can have a massive effect on how and if a job can be completed. In order to continue operations during winter everyone onsite will need to follow the proper precautions so that everyone can remain safe without inhibiting the working schedule.
Every crane has different limitations which is why it is important you choose one that has the specifications for the job and is suitable for where you will be working.
An example of how well our cranes work in snowy conditions is when we sent our UNIC URW-547 Mini Spider Crane to Sněžka Mountain to build an aerial cableway terminal.
How Visibility Affects Crane Safety
This may seem like an obvious one but it’s also a very important one – after all if something isn’t visible how can you do it safely?
Making sure everyone on site is wearing their hi-vis is essential, as it only takes a bit of fog or rain for the operator to struggle to see them. Crane operators should never struggle to see while operating, the moment rain or snow becomes too heavy to see through all lifting should stop. This also applies to working in the dark; there can be less than 8 hours of daylight during winter and when some jobs require working later this can mean working in pitch black. Appropriate lighting should be provided onsite when working late as well as on dark winter mornings.
Despite the dark mornings and nights, the glare of the sun during this period is particularly strong due to the sun’s proximity to the earth; so always make sure the sun is not affecting your vision and try to have a pair of sunglasses on hand (sunglasses should not be worn in replacement of safety glasses though).
How the Cold Affects Crane Safety
When working in the winter elements the cold and wet can easily affect things such as mobility, increasing your risk of slipping, and even cognitive function. Without gloves your hands can become stiff and numb, preventing you from performing tasks that require fine motor skills. If you manage to become wet through your clothes, then in cold weather you will become more prone to hypothermia and be more likely to slip when trying to handle machinery. If your clothing does become wet change immediately and seek out shelter until your body temperature regulates. When taking breaks staff should be provided with somewhere warm to rest.
It is suggested in extremely cold weather that everyone should try to work in pairs, by working with someone it means if hypothermia or frostbite begins to set in then your partner is more likely to spot the warning signs. If there is any notion someone has become unsafely cold you should bring them somewhere warm and provide medical attention if needed. Working in groups is especially important when working somewhere that is isolated from other colleagues.
Here is a list of essential clothing for adverse weather conditions:
- Warm gloves with grip and dexterity
- Long sleeves and trousers
- Hi-vis clothing
- Warm hat
- Warm, waterproof coat
- Waterproof trousers
- Safety boots (ideally ones that offer some resistance against the rain)
- Thermal clothing
Assessing Weather Conditions
When arriving on-site you should immediately begin to observe any possible issues or dangers the weather could cause when using your crane. It is best to begin by checking the recommended weather conditions for the crane itself, this is because you may feel the weather conditions are workable but with machinery like cranes it can vastly different.
You should check the temperature and windspeed if possible, this can be done by using an anemometer or checking weather sites. Low temperatures can make the steel used in cranes brittle, so when lifting heavy loads there is a higher risk of damage to the machine.
All areas of operation should be assessed for hazards such as flooding and ice, or objects that have been knocked over by the wind. Where possible these hazards should be removed or a way to safely work around the hazard should be proposed.
All machinery should ideally be prepped for winter by inspecting all components of the crane from hook to tracks. The machine should be checked for chips in the paint and any rusting that may have occurred which should be treated when spotted. Waterproof and insulated tarps are recommended when leaving your crane outside overnight to avoid these issues.
How Wind Affects Crane Safety
If you assess that the wind conditions are safe to work in it is still best to err on the side of caution as even calm winds can quickly turn dangerous if there is a sudden gust. You should also evaluate the terrain you are working on as high winds are often stronger on flat terrain than more built-up areas with tall trees and buildings – this is why airports are so heavily affected by bad winds. However, this is not a rule of thumb as in cities with high buildings there can be urban canyons which cause a ‘nozzle effect’, essentially causing wind speed to increase.
When handling loads, higher lifts should be avoided until you are sure the wind is safe to work in. Any objects that are hard to control or particularly wind resistant should be kept close to the ground and have workers helping to hold the load to prevent it from moving too much in the wind. Loads should also be secured with stronger slings. It is best to do a load test if the crane has been sitting in high winds, this is to make sure the crane has not been damaged, ensuring it is safe to use.
Important: Load tests should always be done in the event of any extreme weather. They are simple to do and keep your crane from acquiring any further damage.
If you want to know more about using cranes in windy conditions, click here.
How Rain Affects Crane Safety
Most operations can typically go ahead during the rain, just with extra precautions. The biggest danger is usually a lack of visibility, so ensuring the crane operator can see through either their window screen or see when operating a crane that is controlled from the outside. Extra caution should be taken when travelling around the worksite and when climbing machinery as the rain will increase the risk of slipping.
If the ground is waterlogged it may be a good idea to seize operations as there is a potential for workers to slip but also for your crane to get stuck. If you are operating a mini crane, you could lay down plywood to transport your crane from A to B, but due to the weight of cranes, it should be avoided when the ground is particularly muddy.
When heavy rain occurs, the crane should be checked for any possible water damage – although cranes are watertight sometimes damage or open doors can cause water to seep inside parts of the machine. The inside of the cab should be checked along with the engine, clutch, brakes, etc. Do not attempt to use the crane if you suspect water damage has occurred, properly assess potential damage and have an engineer fix it for you.
See our video of the MCC1005 Mini Crawler Crane safe at work in the rain.
How Snow and Ice Affect Crane Safety
A lot of the same safety precautions of working in rain can be applied to working in snow and ice, such as the lack of visibility, increased risk of slipping, and damage occurring from the wet conditions, so it is good to refer back to that section when dealing with snow and ice.
When there is snow on site it should first be shovelled or moved with a machine so that it is not blocking any vital pathways, although you should avoid making any snow piles that are too high as they can be prone to collapsing and causing injuries.
Halite/grit salt should be applied to the ground before freezing temperatures hit but after any rainfall so that is not washed away; it should also be applied at the beginning of the workday so that normal operations can continue.
If the crane has snow accumulated on top of it then it should be removed so no extra weight is added to the machine and all ice build-ups should be removed, especially on the windows and any moving parts.
Enclosed track systems should be used to protect against any snow or ice, and protective covers should be applied to machinery overnight.
Cold weather can also affect the strength of the steel in the crane and the operations of the hydraulics, hoist, and rigging devices, so before attempting any lifts you should allow the engine to run for a few minutes to warm it up and do a load test.
You should keep all PPE, hoists, and straps stored in a cool, dry area so that they can be allowed to dry overnight. If your equipment is allowed to get wet and freeze then it can potentially cause the materials to go stiff or rot, which will weaken the fibres and make them unsafe for use.
Depending on what you are lifting the effect of winter weather can be different, check out our other blog post on lifting in winter weather.
GGR Group is Europe’s leading supplier of lifting solutions with almost thirty years in business. As suppliers of a range of cranes from mini spider cranes to articulated crawler cranes, they have the expertise and knowledge for any queries you may have regarding crane safety. To ask more about our selection of cranes and weather safety, message us or call us here.