Deciding If You Need to Use a Crane
Before determining the proper crane safety protocol, a tree professional should determine if the job even requires one. The Tree Care Industry Association recommends looking at alternative methods of tree care that may have fewer hazards. Examples of these methods include:
- Aerial lifts: An aerial lift is a mobile vehicle that has a way to lift a person up. Examples include bucket trucks and cherry pickers. While aerial lifts can reach heights up to 150 feet, they are typically far shorter than that.
- Climbing: If a tree is healthy, then using appropriate equipment to climb it may be a better option than the use of a crane. To check tree health, look for signs of missing or damaged tree bark.
- Personnel platform: A personnel platform actually uses a crane, but offers workers a better support system by minimizing tipping. Personnel platforms come in a variety of sizes depending on a team’s needs.
The Tree Care Industry Association offers a worksheet that they recommend be filled out before any work with a crane. The worksheet leaves spaces for arborists to explain why each of the alternative methods does not make sense for their situation.
Once a tree-care professional has determined that a crane is the best way to take care of a job, they should be sure to follow all of the crane safety protocols required by OSHA and recommended by the Tree Care Industry Association.
Every worker on a crane crew should have the licenses and certification that are required of their specific jobs. In particular, a crane operator must have completed proper licensing classes and obtained the appropriate certifications. Classes inform operators of the basics of using the crane, as well as warning signs that a piece of equipment must be replaced or repaired.
In addition to having a qualified operator, workers should ensure that the arborist being hoisted has previous experience with or knowledge of chainsaw technique, rigging and crane hand signals. Important rigging skills include the ability to work over obstacles with rope and use multiple slings at once.
Tree-care professionals should ensure that all of their crane’s settings meet the specifications of the manufacturer. Doing so will prevent many easily avoidable safety or technical issues. The crane and all associated rigging equipment should be inspected on a regular basis.
Performing the Job
Industry norms from the American National Standards Institute require that a debrief meeting be held before any work with a crane. This meeting should include the arborist, crane operator, signal person – if one is being used – and any additional workers who are relevant to the job. Each meeting will cover important crane safety procedures and other issues related to the job.
A certified crane operator should also remain at the controls throughout the entire time that a load, whether a person or something else, is suspended in the air. Additionally, the operator and the suspended arborists should remain in continuous communication with a hands-free radio system. This is especially true during blind picks.
Before performing the cut itself, the arborist should determine the weight of the limb that he or she is removing and communicate it to the crane operator. They must make sure that the load in the air is not more than 80% of the crane’s total capacity.
While tree care professionals face many crane safety regulations when they use a crane, OSHA differentiates between cranes that are used for tree removal and ones used in other industries, like construction. Crane operators in each industry follow slightly different regulations.
In addition, OSHA offers exceptions to some of its regulations for tree professionals in very specific circumstances. For example, many of the rules in place for hoisting workers with a crane are rendered void by the use of a man-basket, which turns the crane into a “dedicated personnel hoisting device.”