14.01.2020

A long road ahead

Figures from the past decade show that people working at height or with lifting equipment, especially in the construction/forestry and utility sectors, are far more likely to have an accident at work than others. Almost all work sites have elements of danger which require careful planning and execution of the work in order to ensure everyone goes home unhurt.

However, travelling to and from the workplace carries an even higher risk, with 1.25 million people losing their lives around the world each and every year. That is almost 3,300 a day! As fleets grow there will inevitably be more incidents involving cranes, aerial lifts and telehandlers as they are moved to and from sites.

Just before Christmas we reported on an incident in which a seven axle 400 tonne All Terrain crane travelling with a four axle trailing boom dolly overturned on a highway in California. The driver swerved to avoid traffic, lost control of the rig and crashed through the central reservation. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt. Given that only a very small percentage of cranes travel with trailing booms - mostly to meet extreme road regulations in parts of the USA and Australia - they do appear to be involved in an inordinate number of serious road incidents. This is the third such incident Vertikal has covered in the last three months - although to be fair a crane crash makes the headlines while a car or truck would not.

Questions that might be asked are ‘how safe are these boom trailers’ and ‘should their performance at speed or when swerving to avoid obstacles be investigated?’

But it is not just trailing booms that are an issue.
Cranes in general seem more prone to road incidents - be it a collision, overturning or catching fire - especially given how few there are on the road compared to other vehicles. A few months ago C&A featured the articulated pick&carry crane which is popular in Australia, New Zealand and India. This type of crane has something of a reputation for instability - particularly when travelling at speed - with many operators referring to a ‘death wobble’ that can occur following a high speed oversteer incident.

An incident in Toowoomba, Queensland in 2013 highlighted this when a mother and son died and two children were injured when a new articulated crane - in perfect mechanical condition - fishtailed out of control and hit their car. The coroner made several recommendations including restricting the maximum speed of such cranes. While this was a rare occurrence, far more incidents are caused by a lack of maintenance to critical items such as brakes, tyres and running gear etc.

Everyone working with large equipment aims to avoid workplace incidents. But perhaps we need to focus more on the movement of equipment by road and make an extra effort to overturn poor road regulations, step up defensive driving skills training and strengthen road worthiness inspection regimes to ensure that the equipment is in top condition for safer travel to and from jobs. Either way, it’s a long road ahead of us.

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