Is the Overhead Crane Industry Broken?

Any owner of an overhead crane in Australia is in an unenviable position under current market conditions. A complete lack of clarity exists around compliance requirements for cranes, crane service companies offer conflicting advice and below par services, the industry regulator acts passively and there is a general lack of expertise within the industry.

Overhead cranes generally operate behind closed doors and incidents are commonly covered up. At ideas* cranes we often encounter potentially significant risk factors during our inspection process and there have been a number of recent incidents which have entered the public domain. The regulators take limited action in regards to auditing of existing crane management practice but are becomingincreasingly aggressive when dealing with major incidents.

It is vital that all aspects of a crane life cycle be managed competently to ensure a safe workplace but significant gaps still exist within the industry. Unfortunately crane manufacturers and service companies do not provide adequate guidance on implementing a complete crane compliance system, including critical aspects such as pre-operational inspections, operator training, work procedures and risk assessments. A large proportion of new crane installations do not even comply with current standards. The Department of Mining and Petroleum in WA audited 58 Overhead Crane registrations received between July 2012 and March 2014 and 91% were found to be non-compliant to AS 1418.

The typical current industry practice is for crane service providers to complete a generic tick box style inspection with limited ‘service’ activities. Manufacturers are reluctant to provide technical information and manuals are rarely considered.

Despite being mandated by AS 2550.1 since 2011 3rd Party Inspections of Overhead Cranes have still not been widely adopted. The majority of Mobile Cranes in Australia are subject to the Crane Industry Council of Australia’s CraneSafe Green Sticker inspection annually, yet only a handful of companies have adopted this process for Overhead Cranes.

ideas* cranes believes that the best option for crane owners today is to take a top down approach to crane management. A combined view that considers both the total cost of crane ownership and compliance with the Australian Standards and OHS Regulations. This provides the crane owner with the information necessary to make decisions on how to most effectively close compliance gaps.

A number of industry based organisations provide guidance to owners and service providers and are helping move the industry towards a stronger position. Although the Australian Standards for Overhead Cranes are dated (1418.3 was released in 1997) they offer a worthwhile starting point, particularly AS 2550.1 – 2011 Crane Safe Use. Other Australian crane standards have aligned with the relevant European (EN) standards (Mobile Cranes – 2011, Vehicle Loading Cranes – 2013) so EN 15011-2011 provides an indication of where the local standards are likely to be headed.

Locally the Victorian WorkCover Authority have provided some guidance on their expectations for major inspections and management of cranes. The Crane Industry Council’s ‘Green Sticker’ program has transformed the Mobile Crane industry and provides a similar framework for Overhead Cranes and the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), although a UK based body, is rapidly expanding in Australia.

Despite the industry gradually moving in the right direction it is still a murky road for owners and remains full of uninformed and misleading information. We recommend the following key steps to ensure a robust system that complies with local regulations and avoids unnecessary cost:

  • Gain at least a basic understanding of crane compliance requirements. Begin with guidance documents from local regulators and industry bodies.
  • Start at the top – an audit of crane management activities is much more important than engaging a crane maintenance company or completing a Major Inspection.
  • Don’t rely on a single service provider – the Australian Standards requirement for annual 3rd Party Inspections also makes good economic sense. It removes the incentive for bias and keeps the owner in a position of control.
  • Understand the concept of design life. A crane is similar to other vehicles in that the most important factor is the amount of work completed not how long the crane has been in service.

If you have any questions please get in touch. We don’t make, service or repair cranes. Our focus is on providing crane owners with the engineering and compliance expertise and support necessary to make informed decisions.