Crane Use and Training for Arborists

TCIA helped organize this crane-training day for OSHA field personnel at Minuteman National Park in Concord, Massachusetts, in spring 2019. When it comes to using cranes for tree work, OSHA, ASME and ANSI regulations all come into play. TCIA staff photos by Kathleen Costello.
TCIA helped organize this crane-training day for OSHA fi eld personnel at Minuteman National Park in Concord, Massachusetts, in spring 2019. When it comes to using
cranes for tree work, OSHA, ASME and ANSI regulations all come into play. TCIA staff photos by Kathleen Costello.

As the rain is coming down here in the Green Mountain State of Vermont and I am taking a break from sawing pine logs into lumber for a new machine shed, I sit here putting pen to paper … or rather, fingers to keyboard. It is Labor Day weekend, the end of our 2019 summer. When you read this article, it will be October. For some, the busy season will be winding down and plans for new equipment will start being formulated. Many of us will be making plans to attend several of the great talks at TCI EXPO 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in November, to expand our knowledge and gather CEUs. I am excited to be one of the speakers taking part in a scheduled session on the use of cranes in arboriculture, joining Todd Kramer, Mike Teti and Pete “The Crane Man” Nieves-Sosa for the talk. In this article, I want to share a bit of what we will be discussing there.

I am a huge fan of using cranes for tree removal. Even though I love rigging for removal operations, there is just no getting around how invaluable a crane can be. We can take a tree that would be a difficult and time-consuming operation and make it a simple and straight-forward removal: setting our chokers and balancers, repositioning, making our cut, then hoisting and lowering sections of the tree to our designated landing zone. What could be easier than that? Well, there are a lot of factors, thoughts and planning that need to come into play before any of this starts. Although a crane can make our job safer and easier, it also can open a huge can of worms that can lead to disaster.

At TCI EXPO, we will listen as Dr. John Ball tells us the statistics for this past year’s accidents in our industry. We work in one of the most dangerous industries. We want to make our industry safer, our jobs easier and our work more efficient. This can include adding a crane to our equipment stable. When we look at the construction industry, we see that cranes are involved in 25–33% of the fatal accidents, with 39% of those due to electrical contact. Now let’s think about some differences in using a crane for construction as compared to using a crane for arboriculture.

In construction, we may be lifting a roof truss, a beam or an air-conditioning unit. All of these items have been manufactured and have known weights. We can look at our load charts and range diagrams and figure out if we can pick these items prior to our lift. In all my years of tree work, I have yet to come across a tree that says, “The above piece weighs X number of pounds. Attach choker here, cut here.” In tree work, we are estimating the weight of the pick and our balance point/points. When you cut it, you own it.

Part of working with cranes is – or at least should be – reading and training with the load chart for the crane.

I have been involved in arborist training for close to 20 years now, with the last two years mostly performing crane-licensing-test prep courses and testing. I have held classes/talks in 41 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. I also consult as a subject-matter expert in crane use in arboriculture. One of the biggest things I come across is crews that just do not know how to read and use their load charts and range diagrams. Unfortunately, in some cases I am there after the crew has had an accident. Often, these crews have had zero to minimal training on operating a crane. With the consulting, these accidents are usually fatalities. Someone has paid the ultimate price. The sad part is, most of these accidents could have been prevented.

Brad Hughes, CTSP, talks about the skills and endurance needed to climb in traditional ways versus using crane assistance during the second TCIA-organized crane training day for OSHA and National Park Service personnel, this one in Maryland in September 2019.
Brad Hughes, CTSP, talks about the skills and endurance needed to climb in traditional ways versus using crane assistance during the second TCIA-organized crane training day for OSHA and National Park Service personnel, this one in Maryland in September 2019.

Our industry has some great training opportunities available. I often hear my fellow tree workers say, “Oh, we don’t need that,” or, “Training is too expensive.” As a test-prep instructor, I have been told by participants that these licensing classes won’t make them better operators come Monday morning. Well, let’s think about that for a moment.

At some point in life, we all had to take a test to get a driver’s license, whether it was for a passenger car or a CDL. Did that test make us better drivers come Monday morning? No. It simply showed that we had a basic knowledge of how to operate a motor vehicle, or a commercial motor vehicle, in a safe manner. Let’s face it, we don’t want another person without the proper license operating a vehicle on the highway where our children or other family members are traveling. So, why would we want someone operating a crane who hasn’t demonstrated they have a minimum of knowledge and skill regarding crane operation and use?

Part of this knowledge is understanding the rules and regulations that affect us when we use a crane. This can get murky for us. At TCI EXPO, I will be discussing some of the OSHA, ASME and ANSI regulations that come into play. Oh, pardon the plug, but while you are at the EXPO, don’t forget to pick up a copy or two or three of the Z133-2017 safety standard if you don’t yet have a copy. Also, visit the TCIA booth and pick up a copy of the latest edition of “Best Practices for Crane Use in Arboriculture” by Travis Vickerson and Tchukki Andersen.

In both aerial-lift and crane classes, I ask how many people in the class already operate the bucket truck or crane. I get a lot of hands up. Then I ask how many have read the operator’s manual. I usually only get a couple of hands up, along with one or two arms that go part way up, wiggling their hands a little. When I ask about the latter, I usually get a response to the effect of, “Well, I was in the truck eating my lunch, I was bored. I was there, the manual was there, so I read some of it.”

The manufacturer designed, built and tested that crane. There is no better source on operating, inspecting and maintaining that unit than the manual. Read it, front to back. If there is something in there you don’t understand, ask someone. If they don’t know the answer, contact the manufacturer and ask them.

That manual will give you items to inspect and tell you when to inspect them. This is broken down into two types of inspections – frequent and periodic:

• Frequent: happening at short intervals: often repeated or occurring. This would be our daily and monthly inspections.

• Periodic: occurring or recurring at regular intervals. This would be what we usually refer to as our annual inspection.

Again, the operator’s manual will provide us with a list of items to inspect. Some manuals will give this to you in a checklist form you can copy and use, while others may be written out and will need to be converted to a checklist format.

These usually are visual inspections and are not difficult to perform. Some of these items are specified to inspect in the ASME B30.5, the safety standard for cranes, and others are general items the manufacturer wants you to check.

There are items on this list that, if not in compliance, would cause the crane to be out of service. Others may require a “request for repair” before the unit is used.

A common item here to check is the anti-two block, and if it doesn’t work, that is a required repair before using the crane. Two-blocking is the dangerous condition where the lower hook block or ball is raised until it contacts any part of the boom tip. This is typically a quick fix or repair. I have often found an inoperative anti-two block to be caused by a dirty or corroded electrical connection that can be repaired using a small wire brush and a squirt of WD-40. However, if the anti-two block isn’t functioning because the external wire is broken, then this is a more involved repair procedure, and the crane would be out of service until repaired.

When it comes to the annual inspection, I prefer a third-party inspection. This puts a fresh set of eyes on the unit, and the inspectors are usually aware of issues with specific models of equipment that owners or operators may be unaware of. There are numerous third-party-inspection companies around the U.S. These companies will typically offer inspections at your facility or theirs. While they are there inspecting your crane, don’t forget to have them inspect and di-electric test your aerial lift.

See you at TCI Expo!

Keith Norton lives in Vermont and is a training instructor with Cranes101, a seven-year TCIA Associate Member company based in Bellingham, Massachusetts. This article is a preview of a panel discussion on crane use in arboriculture that he will co-host at a pre-conference workshop, held November 6, in conjunction with TCI EXPO 2019, November 7-9, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For more information or to register for the pre-conference workshop or TCI EXPO 2019, visit expo.

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