There are several different types of mobile cranes used in construction, all with an array of models, functions and capabilities. All of them lift and hoist material and equipment by the ton. Without them, our modern world would look a lot different.
These complicated—and potentially dangerous—machines require extensive training and knowledge. We discussed this training in our other post this month, but in this article let’s take a look at a few of the daily responsibilities of mobile and crawler crane operators.
Remember: The contractor works with the crane operator to plan the lift—or at least they should. The best operators collaborate with the customer in the early stages, reviewing drawings and going over all the needs the contractor has before work is scheduled to begin. The best outcomes result from thorough preparation and clear communication of everyone involved.
Getting to Work
Before work can begin, crews must transport the crane to the job site. Mobile cranes can usually take advantage of roads and highways to get there, but if the load is over-dimensional (meaning over the legal limit for height, weight or width), operators may have to take a longer route.
Safety on the road is always a top priority for mobile crane operators. Getting the cranes to the job site can be slow going, so there may also be restrictions on when they can travel surface roads. In many cases, after-dark transport of oversize loads or transport during busy holidays are not allowed, for example.
Once the crane is at the job site, the operator is responsible for getting it placed in the optimum location. Determining placement requires discussion with the project supervisor/contractor to take other equipment (such as excavators, concrete trucks, and delivery trucks) into account.
If the cranes have to be taken apart for transportation, the good news is that new technology makes them easy to erect with fewer tools than were once required. To safely assemble and set up a crane, the ground is first compacted and leveled. Without solid footing, a crane can shift during that all-important critical lift. Sinking a few inches into soft clay soil is all it takes to create massive headaches later on.
Preparing to begin a job involves lots of checklists—something operators know all about. After getting to the job site, they’ll often spend an hour conducting systematic checks on the equipment, looking for signs of leaks and cable wear or issues with gauges and electrical systems.
Operators also have to know who they’re working with and if they’re qualified. There is usually a designated signal man to signal the operator when placing the load, for example. Everyone working with the crane operator has to be properly trained to signal and rig the loads.
On top of everything else, crane operators and the team working with them all have to be weather experts. Since wind gusts affect lifts and cold temperatures affect hydraulic equipment, the operator has to account for these factors. Rain and fog can hinder visibility, as well.
Of course, safety doesn’t start when the crane operator gets to the job site. Safety means knowing the regulations and having the right certifications. Training classes and certification courses come first. Licenses and certifications that an operator might have include:
Requirements for NCCO Mobile Crane Operator certification include the following:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Meet medical requirements
- Comply with NCCCO’s substance abuse policy
- Pass written examinations (core and at least one specialty)
- Pass practical tests within twelve months of passing the written examination
- Comply with the NCCCO Code of Ethics
There is additional training required for some job sites (utilities, power plants and military facilities, for example.)
The Impact of Technology
Today’s mobile crane operators depend on technological advancements that have improved accuracy and efficiency. Newer cranes are "smart” machines, with onboard computers displaying the info needed to calculate a critical lift and showing the radius and capacity of boom length at a glance.
Just like with today’s truck driving industry, GPS monitors hours worked, and other on board systems alert the operator when it’s time to call the techs at LC Crane Parts and Service for scheduled maintenance and needed repairs.
These days, modular lifts are speeding up work schedules and allowing more construction to take place on the ground rather than high in the air. Whereas old cranes controlled the loads with long manual levers and stiff brakes, new cranes have short hydraulic and or electric actuated controls.
These advancements in the operator’s controls make modern mobile cranes look like video games. There’s no denying, however, that they have reduced operator fatigue over long shifts, which ultimately saves time and money and, of course, increases safety for the operator and those around him on the job site.
That’s not to say fatigue doesn’t come with the job. In fact, if you’re a fan of sleeping in or getting off work early, crane operation isn’t your calling! Operators and their crews work multiple shifts, weekends and holidays because of the accelerated construction schedules they face.
An operator’s shift can last up to 12 hours. It takes patience and dedication to stay sharp and communicative on those long days, but the best mobile crane operators do it. The success of the project depends on them staying focused and ready to make accurate snap judgments.