Prompted in part by the threat that regulatory scrutiny of mobile cranes could bleed over to overhead cranes, many steel mills and other high production industries are gearing up their lifting equipment operator training programs. Nevertheless, there haven’t been any changes in OSHA standards for overhead cranes for as long as most operators working today can remember.
“Overhead cranes have been seen as the stepsister of mobile cranes,” says Bill Schofield, technical consultant for the Crane Institute, Sanford, Fla. “They seem simpler to operate, and therefore some companies are reluctant to have their employees take time out to be trained on how to operate them.” However, he notes that when a company has something that is heavy enough to lift, as is frequently the case in a steel mill, you can get hurt doing so.
It is difficult for employers to take time out for “hands-on” crane operator training in any high production environment, such as but certainly not limited to, steel mills, Tom Reardon, training manager for Columbus McKinnon Corp., Amherst, N.Y., says. However, employers realize the need for their operators to be properly trained, given that they are often moving critical loads at high speeds including hot metal, at times.
Reardon notes that OSHA’s recent update to the mobile crane standards has had an influence on the operation of overhead cranes but only when intended for construction. No significant changes to OSHA 1910.179, Overhead and Gantry Crane Standards have been made since 1971, but there has been speculation of new regulations for the past 15 years.
According to Jon Ostling, training manager at Cascade Steel Rolling Mills, McMinnville, Ore., there has been a growing acknowledgement of the value of knowing that your employees have a certain standard level of knowledge and competency.
“Training is important to us,” he says. “When they are properly trained, we know that our crane operators have the ability to perform their jobs properly and to meet certain production criteria. We also know that everyone will go home as safe and in the same condition as when they came to work.”
Ostling says this is not just Cascade Steel’s view but that of many steelmakers. “Cranes and other lifting devices are very high risk equipment,” he explains. “People can get hurt. This is especially true when they are lifting molten steel and other heavy products.”
According to Al Abel, lifting specialist at Cleveland, Ohio-based Mazzella Lifting Technologies, different companies approach lifting equipment training differently. “Some do it proactively, offering training to their employees annually or every two or three years on a set agenda,” he says. “Others are more reactive. Due to an incident, even one that might be unrelated to their cranes, they call a corporate red alert.”
The type of training also varies, says Michael Gelskey Sr., CEO of Lift-It Manufacturing Co. Inc., Los Angeles, Calif.. While some companies want to train their employees to comply with industry and insurance requirements, he says others that do not perform in a stringent or politically charged environment are only looking for competency training, which most likely will not transfer with the employee if he goes to another job.
According to Al Abel, lifting specialist at Cleveland-based Mazzella Lifting Technologies, different companies approach lifting equipment training differently.
More proactive approach
Reardon says that many companies are becoming more proactive. “Fewer are waiting for an incident before they ask for training,” Reardon says. “They are becoming more aware of the costs related to accidents not only in dollar figures but in terms of lower employee morale. Employee morale tends to be higher in a safe working environment.”
Steve Bayerlein, president of Kenrich Industrial Inc., Waukesha, Wis., says that his company has gotten more inquiries for training than ever before in order to lower work-related injuries at this time of rising workman’s compensation costs.
“They are more cognizant of the need to get people trained to prevent injury and loss of work,” he says. According to Rick Geddes, safety consultant for the North American Crane Bureau (NACB), Lake Mary, Fla., that can be controlled not just by initial training but with refresher courses, which some companies do on a regular basis (whether quarterly, annually, or every few years) but more often upon any changes or potential changes in regulations, accidents, or near accidents, or when company-wide policies change.
“Many accidents happen because of operators developing bad habits,” he explains. “Frequent refresher courses can control the amount of those bad habits.”
Ostling says that his company does not want employees using lifting equipment until they know how to use it safely. “We constantly tell our employees that if they are asked to do something that they don’t understand or that they are not comfortable doing, they should tell someone and step down,” he says, adding that this is actually a pretty common approach at most steel mills. Ostling says Cascade Steel’s operators are certified on below the hook rigging as well. “We go through a third-party training company for rigging and flagging training,” he adds.
Some steel mills, however, continue to be lax about training, says David Vives, project engineer and head of the training department at FHS Inc., Lakeland, Fla.
Abel says he believes that some mills are not as dedicated to training as they should be. “Many only do training when they have to or after there has been an incident at the plant,” he says that often they see training as a loss of productive time.
“Not only are the companies reluctant, but often the mill works are reluctant learners, especially people who have operated cranes for the past 25 to 35 years,” Abel says. “Many people are scared of training or feel that it will be boring or unproductive or that they are being punished having to go through training. Nevertheless, once they go through the training, they often say they have learned something new.”
Vives says some companies say they don’t have to be so concerned about training as they have never been visited by OSHA. “But they are fools to do that and wait until something happens,” he adds.
This is especially true if OSHA increases its scrutiny on overhead crane training. “It is just a matter of time, as has been the case with mobile cranes, that overhead crane training will be mandated on a federal level,” Vives says, observing that several states already have mandates. He estimates that it could happen as soon as in the next three to five years after the federal government first gets an input from a myriad of sources to develop as consensus standard.
Inherently more stable
Columbus McKinnon’s Reardon isn’t so sure. “OSHA scrutiny tends to focus on high risk or high accident areas of industry,” he says. “The lack of a push for new overhead and gantry crane regulations may be due to the relatively low incident rate when compared to mobile cranes. An overhead crane is an inherently more stable platform than mobile cranes. I don’t see any indication that there will be any change to OSHA 1910.179 anytime soon.”
True, OSHA is becoming very serious with regulating mobile cranes, including the subpart CC-Cranes and Derricks regulation introduced in010 for construction cranes and, as Reardon says, some of that has bled off to overhead cranes.
There also tends to be more emphasis on training at larger companies,” Kenrich’s Bayerlein maintains. “Smaller companies currently do it here and there to make sure the operator isn’t in harm’s way and to keep workman’s compensation costs as low as possible.” Sometimes they aren’t willing to make the investment in time and money necessary, he says, although that will likely change going forward.
In the future, there could be a need for more training, with many of the “old guard” operators retiring and being replaced by new workers, Gelskey says. Due to the incredible amount of turnover and the number of new hires because of the aging workforce, as well as changes in and the expansion of various markets including in manufacturing, there will be an increased need, he adds.
Also, according to Abel, as steel mill safety executives get younger, there should be a renewed emphasis upon training. “They know that there is a need to keep training records and documentations,” he says. “They know any new regulations. That should result in more emphasis and desire to do training.”
Over the years, there have been a number of changes in the types of lifting equipment training at the mills, either internally or through third-party trainers. One of the notable changes, Schofield says, is a decline in on-the-job apprentice programs. He says it used to be quite commonplace for a new crane operator to apprentice with any experienced operator before even getting into the seat of the crane.
Schofield says that many companies don’t do that anymore. “It could be that certain old rules don’t apply anymore, or it could be due to financial reasons,” he says.
He explains that on-the-job apprentice training tends to be slower in getting someone to be able to do production work, but he maintains the best way to train someone is to work in the environment where he will eventually work. Reardon also notes that apprenticeship programs are not nearly as common as they use to be.
Training is more structured than it had been in the past, Ostling says. “Older operators said they had more ‘play time’ or hands-on time than is provided operators today,” he adds.
“But I think gradually the pendulum is swinging back,” Schofield says. “Eventually we will see more apprentice or structured on the job training.”
New set of eyes
Reardon says that while some companies have established programs, others call Columbus McKinnon when they see a need for a “new set of eyes” in evaluating their operator training. Some requests for training is the result of a recent OSHA visit.
“We can provide crane operator training in terms of knowledge and basic skills, but like any third-party training provider, we don’t always know the specific work procedures, operating characteristics of each crane, the inherent obstacles or challenges of the environment, and other issues that are unique to each crane and its function within the facility,” Reardon says. “Typically, we provide classroom training in operator conduct, responsibilities, safety, dos and don’ts, safe lifting practices and pre-operational inspections. This is followed by hands-on, basic skills training when the employer can provide a crane. Hands-on, job-specific training is often left to the employer.”
Operators also go through advanced or job-specific skills training, “But that is normally provided by their employer, in an on-the-job training’ scenario,” Reardon says. “Often times, new crane operators ride with experienced personnel for a few days to several weeks before being allowed to get into the seat. Not until they have achieved an acceptable level of proficiency are they allowed to operate solo.”
Abel says it is similar with the training that Mazzella offers. He says that while most of the training is in a classroom setting, he brings buckets of items to make the training more interactive. “That way the people we train can touch and see things that we have taken out of service even though we can’t bring in a whole crane,” he says.
Often mill in-house training starts with a workshop or classroom instruction. Ostling says Cascade Steel offers workshops for its employees that are followed with a test with acceptance of that training requiring a score of 80 percent or greater.
“After that we review the employee’s job performance and show the employee how to perform certain necessary tasks, especially if he hadn’t used a crane before,” Ostling explains. Also when employees are transferred to a new area of the plant, they go through a familiarization process until they are comfortable with the lifting equipment there.
Schofield, however, played down the advantage of classroom training calling it a waste of time. “There is a need for more independent, interactive training,” he says, observing that companies, such as ThyssenKrupp’s new mill in Calvert, Ala., have installed a training crane in their training center, but this is very rare.
As somewhat of a compromise there have be more use of simulators, NACB’s Geddes says. “With a simulator, there is no need to take a crane out of service,” he says. “However, the simulator is never as good as hands-on training.”
Schofield questions whether simulators are effective for overhead crane training at all. “There are full motion mobile crane simulators, but I haven’t seen that for overhead cranes,” he says.
“I believe there will be more and more sophisticated training requirements going forward,” Gelskey says. “This is due to new user dynamics, as well as the fact that we are becoming more sophisticated in our practices and in the information that needs to be transmitted to lifting equipment operators. The best conduit is training.”
In conclusion, Reardon says, going forward he does not see the actual training changing much.
“What I see is a change in the acceptance of bringing in someone from the outside to conduct train-the-trainer classes in order to improve consistency in operator training,” he says. “Even a good operator can develop bad habits and instill those habits into others they train.”
Author; Myra Pinkham