Cranes have come to epitomise modern industrialisation and urbanisation in construction, mining, engineering, manufacturing, production and infrastructural development. These mega-structures tower above us, tall and high up into the urban skyline. They are the mechanical behemoths which, all too familiar in our environment, play a central role in the construction of our new age metropolitan concrete jungles. As a health and safety lawyer I have learnt a lot about the risks they pose.
There are three common types of cranes: tower, crawler and hydraulic mobile cranes. The most well-known, tower cranes, are distinguishable by their vertical masts and horizontal jibs and counter-jibs. In operation the jibs rotate cyclically. Attached to the jibs are a trolley and block hook which runs back and forth. Crawler cranes are tracked mobile cranes distinguishable by their lattice booms. At the end of the booms are wire ropes suspended with implements such as grapples, clamshells, crane hooks, or electric magnets used to lift and move loads around. Hydraulic cranes are smaller mobile cranes which travel on either tyres or treads. They use hydraulic power and have telescoping arms which extend upward to lift loads1. Much like humans, cranes are comprised of complex constituent components, with their own specifications and features. They are commissioned, have a lifespan, work shifts, age, physically weaken, and when the inevitable end of life comes they are finally decommissioned from their heights down to the ground.
Cranes are the largest pieces of equipment on construction sites, and inherently the most dangerous. They cause catastrophic accidents resulting in injuries, death and destruction of structures which causes substantial financial losses. Recent accidents that shocked South Africans and the rest of the world include the collapse of a crane during the pre-soccer World Cup construction of the Sao Paulo Stadium, Brazil, killing 2 construction workers on 27 November 2013. On 11 September 2015, a crawler crane toppled onto the Grand Mosque, the Masjid-al-Haram, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, killing 111 people and resulting in 394 injured. On 14 September 2015, one employee died and two others were injured at the ESKOM Kusile Power Station, Mpumalanga, when a mobile crane tipped over. The statistics of crane accidents between 2000 and 2010 paint a grim picture for health and safety.