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A day in the life of a crane operator

Monday, July 24, 2017

By Maxim Crane Works

The world of cranes is vast and varied. There are a number of different types of cranes used within the construction industry, all with seemingly endless models, functions and capabilities. Not only are cranes an integral part of most construction projects lifting and hoisting material by the ton, they are also a complicated piece of machinery to man, and can be dangerous due to their sheer size and power.

Have you ever wondered what a day looks like for the individuals who are tasked with operating tower/ mobile and crawler cranes? Where 100% accuracy is a part of the job description.

We asked James Creek, one of Maxim Crane’s very own crane operators, to give us expert insight into what a day looks like for an operator of a mobile and crawler crane. James started as a crane operator and is now Vice President of the Power Division of Maxim.

Transportation

Crane operators at Maxim Crane know all about early mornings and long days, the first task of the day for most mobile crane operators is transportation, getting the crane to the construction site is a challenge in itself at times. Mobile cranes are designed for easy transportation on roads and highways. However, James tells us that the daily mobilization in and out of jobs can be a challenge in itself, “Travel / bridge restrictions such as width, height and weight mean taking longer routes at times. Holidays and curfews also limit when the cranes can travel and varies state to state and city to city. Safety on the road is always a major concern and a priority for crane operators. There are many factors that mobile crane operators must take into consideration during the transportation of equipment: The heavy high speed traffic on the roads combined with the much slower speeds at which the crane can travel means that there is always a chance an accident could occur just getting to the site!”

Safety & Qualifications

Cranes are just one of many pieces of equipment on a construction site. Every contractor has a job to do and there are deliveries /concrete trucks and excavating equipment that must also share a congested job site. Crane operators upon arrival must spend some time with the customer to make sure that the cranes placement is in the best location possible. Proper set up and planning will insure the task at hand is performed safely and efficiently. James explains that “operators need to make sure that everyone who is working with the crane is qualified to signal and rig the loads correctly. Making a bad judgment call in any way can mean that people may get injured” Crane operators are masters of checklists, spending up to 1 hour completing systematic checks on the equipment, closely examining the crane for leaks/ cable wear/electrical, gauge or computer LMI issues. Only when their walk around inspections is complete, does the operator continue their day.

Safety demands in the crane industry has changed over time – increased regulations and safety policies mean individuals are required to seek more certification and qualifications than ever before. There are multiple training options available for crane operators here at Maxim. James tells us that training options are mostly dependent on the type of project and the customers site specific requirements. “Maxim offers a long list of certifications and classes to keep their operators at the top of their craft. In addition the customer’s requirements change and updates and refresher courses are mandatory. Some certifications are NCCO certification, OSHA training, CDL license, Rigger certification, Forklift certification, Fall Protection training, Spotter certification, Powerline Safety Awareness certification. Some power plants and processing plants also require their site specific training before a job can start.”

New Technology

The introduction of new software and technology has had a dramatic impact on the way today’s crane operators work. Technological advancements in the industry have greatly improved accuracy and efficiency. Newer cranes are intelligently designed, the critical information of a lift is now listed on the computer screen for easy viewing. The old days of not knowing the exact weight of the lift is now a thing of the past. The new machines can show the weight /radius/ capacity/ boom length even wind speed at a glance. GPS monitoring logs hours and when oil changes are due as well as vehicle location when traveling. Innovations within the industry have been instrumental in helping crane operators keep up with the “increased urgency” of projects whilst still maintaining excellent standards.

The ever-increasing size and scale of modern construction projects means that the size and lifting capacity of cranes has changed pretty drastically over the last 40 years. According to James, “the need for very large cranes has changed since the 70s. Back then, a 200-ton crane was considered huge. These days we see 3000 ton plus cranes on sites due to the projects wanting to set very large module type lifts to escalate schedules. The ability for contractors to build these larger lifts on the ground eliminates stick building in the air. Thus, reducing scaffolding and insulation that once had to be done at very high elevations. New technology also has made the cranes very easy to assemble with much less tools than were once required. Advancements in the operator’s controls have made the operator’s fatigue minimal over long shifts. Old cranes relied on long manual levers and very stiff brakes to control the loads. New cranes have very short hydraulic and or electric actuated controls much like one would see on a video game. These advancements greatly reduce time spent on assemblies or operator fatigue ultimately saving time and money all while increasing safety.

Challenges

All crane operators face daily challenges, with weather and ground conditions being the biggest antagonists. Operators work in all types of “weather and temperatures situations.” Operators pay close attention to the condition of the environment, constantly looking out for hazards: Wind gusts can cause issues with safe lifting, the more sail area a load has the more unpredictable the load becomes, cold temperatures can compromise hydraulic features and startups with the equipment, and other weather events such as rain, fog or snow can distort visibility to dangerous levels as well as slip and fall conditions.

Poor planning of a project by a contractor is another major concern for crane operators. In order to safely assemble and set up the crane, the ground must be suitably compacted and leveled. James mentions that proper planning is critical to the success and profitability of a project: “lack of a good area to set the crane up can become an issue,” for example, poor soil conditions may cause the crane to “slip or sink” causing damage to equipment or property. Poor planning along with the need to stay on schedule can at times create “tension between the customer and crew that could have been avoided.” Maxim prides itself in working with contractors in the early stages to review drawings and the needs and expectations each customer has!

Communication

Communication is key for mobile crane operators, with the best outcomes stemming from extensive preparation and clear instructions with all contractors involved. Maxim Crane’s sales and staff along with great customer communication also helps ensure that all is worked out in the early stages to reduce surprises for the operator once he arrives on site.”

Tower/crawler and mobile crane operators are also often in communication with construction workers on the ground, they regularly use radios to precisely coordinate lifts when the crane operator’s view is blocked. It is very common to have a designated signal man that only signals the crane to insure safety and accuracy when placing the load. These techniques are just a few examples of things that enable Maxim’s operators to produce results that exceed expectations.

Schedule

The ability to stay on or ahead of schedule is always a priority on construction sites; there are always goals to be met. James notes that, “Maxim is a 24/7 needs driven operation. Teams work multiple shifts, weekends, and holidays because of the tight time frames. Maxim commits to its customers that it will safely do whatever it takes to keep the job on track and under budget.”

“It is all in the planning, and the attention which is paid to fine details which keeps Maxim ahead of the game, and at the leading edge of the crane rental industry.”

A crane operator’s shift typically lasts between 8 to 12 hours. The days are long and the work is challenging at times, this means operators are required to keep calm under pressure, display diplomacy, and have the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The level of skills, responsibility, commitment, and dedication crane operators demonstrate are highly valued in building the nations skyline.

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