Testing times11 February 2019
Tom Woerndl looks at how crane owners and inspection companies can improve the safety of their test and inspection processes.
Safety is a key aspect of the lifting industry. While manufacturers of lifting technology are keen to highlight the latest risk-reducing features of their wares, crane owners also need to demonstrate the rigour of their safety and maintenance procedures. These procedures can themselves be risky: overhead cranes are often used in challenging working environments, and lifting equipment may be installed at great heights, with operators having to work in small spaces and close to the ceiling of factories and warehouses. As a result, carrying out maintenance and inspection can be a complex task that requires its own set of safety processes, best practices, and technology.
Much of the guidance for inspection of lifting equipment is taken from LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations), outlined by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Elements of LOLER have been included in other safety regimes, and in multinational companies’ in house procedures.
“We align our inspection process with the requirements of LOLER,” says Steve Hutin, managing director of UK-based lifting equipment supplier Rope and Sling Specialists (RSS), which also carries out inspection of cranes.
LOLER states that: “If your business or organisation undertakes lifting operations or is involved in providing lifting equipment for others to use, you must manage and control the risks to avoid any injury or damage”.
The Work at Height Regulations (2005) from the HSE additionally give operators guidance on best practice when it comes to crane inspection, insisting that: “employers and those in control of any work at height activity must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people”.
Hutin doesn’t associate extensive risk with the inspection and maintenance process itself but—in accordance with the Work at Height Regulations—emphasises the importance of working with expert lifting industry professionals on such activities.
“Anything related to lifting gear should be treated as a specialist field and not something a ‘Jack of all trades’ can do as a bolt-on service,” he explains. “We always recommend that an end user works with a specialist lifting equipment company on anything related to cranes or hoists. It’s a mistake to approach the supply of any lifting-related product or service with a broad mentality.
“Unfortunately, I’ve seen many examples recently of products declared fit for use that show clear signs of corrosion, cracks, distortion, wear, elongation, missing catches, lack of maintenance, cuts, abrasions, poor assembly—and more!”
From ladders to platforms
In many cases, to minimise the risk posed during inspection processes, operators will use a Mobile Elevated Working Platform (MEWP), and make use of fall arrest systems that prevent operators from falling to the ground.
There are different types of MEWPs, including scissor lifts—which can extend to heights of about 60ft (18m)—and platforms that make use of an extendable boom and can reach to up to around 180ft (55m). Generally, scissor lifts have a much bigger working platform (around 7m by 2.5m) than boom-based technologies, with each providing different benefits appropriate to the project in question.
“Anything that requires maintenance at a height of 6ft or more will need a proper risk assessment and an appropriate solution,” explains David Hall, product and business development manager for UK company Skyjack, which manufactures MEWPs. “In most cases, including for use with overhead cranes, MEWPs will be used for such tasks.”
Platforms used for servicing cranes are usually supplied through third-party companies on a rental basis. For example, in the UK, Nationwide Platforms has a fleet of tens of thousands of machines that range from around 12ft (3.6m) to 180ft (55m) in reach.
The International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) promotes the safe and effective use of powered access equipment worldwide, including guidance on the use of MEWPs.
The advantage of MEWPs is that they excel in a very wide range of applications and environments, says IPAF. MEWPs provide a safe working platform to inspect bridges, structures and aircraft as well as cranes.
The latest safety campaign by IPAF, ‘Plan Ahead’, identifies that poor planning is a key factor in falls from height. To prevent accidents it is critical that proper planning is undertaken. This includes risk assessment, active supervision of work at height, and using trained operators to minimise risks.
“It’s vital that proper risk assessments are carried out prior to using a MEWP at height and that the operator has the relevant training,” explains Andrew Delahunt, the IPAF Director of Technical and Safety.
“Those conducting inspection and maintenance on cranes should follow a safe working method with a trained and competent person operating the MEWP. Not to mention that having a clear rescue plan to recover the platform due to malfunction or an emergency is a critical part of the planning.”
Using a MEWP to inspect cranes is very effective, and can be done safely with the right preparation, adds IPAF.
The increasing use of mobile platforms to inspect cranes means that the use of ladders for maintenance processes on lifting equipment has “virtually disappeared from the industry”, according to Denis Hogan, performance and special projects manager at LEEA, a representative body for companies and organisations involved in the lifting industry worldwide.
“Nowadays, the industry is a lot safer than it was in the past, and the UK has really led the way since the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, which gives clear guidelines on how to safely use equipment and best practice for the industry,” he adds.
Ladders are now only advised for use as a last resort, with semi-permanent structures preferred for performing inspection. “Ladders might be built-in to cranes as a means of gaining access to gantry systems, but generally most operators use MEWPs,” says Hogan.
The benefits of these platforms are selfevident: they provide operators with a stable working area and the ability to have a means of attachment—in other words to clip on to this structure—as a fail-safe. “The provision to clip on with a fall arrest device is a major advantage of using a MEWP,” notes Hogan.
MEWPs themselves are also being designed with enhanced safety features. For instance, Skyjack recently introduced secondary guarding that is said to prevent operators from being trapped against the machine’s controls.
“Our MEWPs also require two handed operation, which forces operators to pay full attention when using them and consequently can help reduce accidents,” says Hall at Skyjack.
Whether or not to use a fall arrest system in conjunction with a working platform will depend on the type of platform being used. “Using a harness on a scissor lift may prevent operators from doing their job properly,” adds Hall.
A committed follower of the “safety first” approach outlined by the HSE, Denis Hogan has decades of experience in the industrial sector and believes that good practice in this area is underpinned by a rigorous programme of maintenance and servicing.
“Cranes are usually inspected periodically, but to ensure that there are no major surprises during these inspections, it’s very important that machinery is kept in good working order through sensible routine maintenance,” he says.
“The designed working period (DWP) of a crane allows operators to take a pragmatic approach to this—depending on how much and for what work the crane is being used—but it’s vital that routine maintenance happens on top of these periodic examinations.”
Fall and load arrest systems
A key means of enhancing safety during the inspection of lifting equipment is to use fall or load arrest systems. As previously mentioned, fall arresters allow operators to attach to a structure, providing a last resort safety mechanism if they happen to fall, while load arresters protect equipment that is suspended at height.
Shropshire, UK-based Globestock, which designs both fall and load arresters, recently unveiled G.Davit, a lightweight anchorage fall arrester designed for use in confined space access and work-at-height situations.
According to its manufacturer, the product has been designed to be safer and simpler to use than current models on the market, with the winch and the retrieval block mounted on the same side of the mast, keeping the operator away from the edge.
“Over time we noticed a gap in the market for a British-made davit anchor system that is rated for both personnel and loads, which can be used by more than one person at the same time,” said Viv Lewis, general manager of Globestock when the product was launched in October last year. “So, we set our accomplished Design and Development team the task of engineering one.”
G.Davit can be used by more than one person simultaneously, providing the MWL (maximum working load) is not exceeded, while it is rated for both personnel lifting of up to 200kg and load lifting of 250kg.
“A key feature of the G.Davit’s design is that it allows a rescue device to be located on the same side of the mast as the operator, giving easy access to the rescue equipment if called upon, without risk of the operator becoming unbalanced,” added Lewis.
“We also gave a lot of attention to the cable routing, designing a system that keeps cable away from the lifting area. As well as all this, the davit had to be adaptable, light and portable, and easy to assemble without tools.”
Globestock additionally manufactures load arresters, including the company’s G.Guard range, which Lewis says “has been at the forefront of our offering for decades now”.
“We’re always looking at ways to improve on all products in our range, and we have some exciting developments in the pipeline for our G.Guards,” he notes. “I can’t say much more than that at this stage, but keep your eyes peeled for more news this year.”
Load arrestors provide a secondary safety back-up for overhead loads and are used in conjunction with a primary lifting device or support, such as a hoist or fixed anchorage.
“If the primary support fails, the load arrestor will automatically catch the load, stopping it from falling, thereby preventing damage and, more importantly, protecting any people below,” says Lewis.
“Because the cable automatically extends and retracts, following the movement of the load, our G.Guards may be used to protect moving loads, as well as non-moving loads. Apart from protecting people and equipment, our load arrestors have also benefitted users by reducing costly downtime and, in some cases, even reducing insurance premiums.”
Lewis confirms that generally all of the industries Globestock supplies are becoming more and more risk and safety conscious. For example, the stage and theatre industry’s ever-increasing safety awareness has led to the development of dual-brake hoists, as a way of reducing risk.
“However, even a dual-brake hoist doesn’t provide a back-up for the cable or chain itself,” he says. “Hence the growing demand for our G.Guards in this industry, which offer a safety cable that is completely independent from the primary cable, rope or chain.
“We’re also benefitting from a growing preference for British products. All of our G.Guard load arrestors are manufactured at our facility in Oswestry, Shropshire, just a short drive from the birthplace of the industrial revolution.
“As well as ensuring quality and dependability, being made in Britain offers customers quicker lead times and simpler servicing.”
Recent customers for Globestock include a range of industries, from sports halls to nuclear energy installations. In the stage industry, O2 Academy Music Group uses the company’s G.Guards to protect performers and audiences, while references in the automotive sector include Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin, Nissan, Vauxhall and Ford.
From theory to practice
An example of the servicing and maintenance that cranes require was recently outlined by Rope and Sling Specialists’ continuing project at the King’s Lynn Power Station, in Norfolk, the UK.
The 370-megawatt facility has employed RSS for a number of jobs at the site, including most recently for the completion of proof load testing of a lifting beam and inspection of a 2.5t capacity Hadef chain hoist installed on a 52m-long runway. The equipment is located 25m up an air-cooled condenser (ACC) building.
The work was contracted to RSS from Poland-based MKL Bau, with the UK company tasked with testing and inspection procedures upon completion of installation of lifting equipment by a third-party company. Testing was executed by two engineers—Gary Coleman (site engineer) and Mick Gill (senior testing engineer)—who were both based at RSS’s Rotherham depot, about 100 miles northwest of the power plant.
The beam and hoist in the power plant are used for removing motors for service and repair, with the hoist able trolley to the outside of the building, lower to ground level, and complete the process in reverse.
“We used the steel structure either side of the walkway to pull against using chain slings, as an alternative to using live weights, to carry out a deflection test,” explains Coleman. “This method saves a substantial amount of money in transportation and time using such weights. This is a practice we devised on a previous job at an ACC in Harrogate [Yorkshire, UK].”
The RSS engineers used a load cell to measure a safe working load (SWL) of 2.5t and 3.125 proof load. At ground level, meanwhile, a telehandler—similar to a forklift but with a single telescopic or articulating boom can extend forward and upwards from the vehicle—was employed to carry out a deflection test of a cantilevered beam, again to save the costs associated with the use of live weights.
RSS carried out these procedures as well as completing onsite testing of a temporary lifting beam to facilitate assembly of ACC ducting. The requirement for specialist lifting and rigging services has been a constant during a long-term investment programme into new flexible power plants across the UK.
Managing director of RSS, Steve Hutin, adds: “This project served as an example of a high profile site committing to exemplary best practices related to lifting and rigging gear, where only experts in the field should be sought for any matters involving installation, periodic inspection, testing, maintenance, and other related activities.”