One Sentence Could Replace All of OSHA ...and be more effective too!!!

Ultimate Crane Safety Vs. OSHA Safety

Well, one sentence could replace at least that part of OSHA pertaining to Overhead Crane safety, and be far more effective than the thousands of words the Department of Labor is currently using. Before I give you that one sentence, let me tell you two stories to illustrate my point.


My father and uncles started Dearborn Crane in 1947. When I graduated from Notre Dame in 1975, after having worked during my high school and college summers in our factory, my father decided I should start  out in sales. He gave me a handful of his "safe" accounts and told me to take care of them and go find some more.

One of my first projects was with a Tank fabricator in Michigan. One day my Dad’s buddy called in and needed a new overhead crane. I went to the customer site and measured up a 3 ton crane, submitted a proposal and got my first sale. All smooth sailing, uneventful and not meriting a story, that is until about a year later.

About a year later, I heard a telephone page for my Dad. The page said “Harry, xyz company on line 2.” I signaled my Dad that I would take the call. On the other end was my Dad’s buddy that I had sold my first crane to a year earlier. I asked if I could help him and he said he’d rather work with my Dad. To this I asked if I had done something wrong?

His answer about floored me. He politely apologized and said, “ Larry, no offense, but your 3 ton crane can only lift 3 tons and your Dad’s 3 ton cranes could lift 15 tons any day of the week.” Being new, I didn’t know what to make of this and I told him that I would look into it. 

After the call, I asked my Dad what was up with this customer picking up 15 tons with a 3 ton crane? He told me that many engineers knew that it was mandatory that cranes be engineered with a 5:1 safety factor. Customers were not suppose to encroach on this safety factor, but (back then) there was no way to stop them.

The difference between my crane as compared to my Dad’s was that his crane was a pre-OSHA crane and my was a post-OSHA crane. With the advent of OSHA, hoist manufactures started offering an option (note, ***optional***) for overload protection. With overload protection the hoist would refuse to  lift anything in excess of the proper “Rated Load.” From that point forward, the industry used the term “rated load” (which rendered the 5:1 safety factor “untouchable”), in place of the old term “capacity,” which inferred that there was lifting capacity going to waste. 

When I put together my proposal for the tank company, I assumed that all cranes should be equipped with overload protection. It just seemed like common sense to me. After all, on what was then a $30k project, it was only a $400 option. It just seemed plain crazy not to include this cheap insurance against potentially catastrophic failure. As a result, my Dad’s buddy could only lift 3 tons with my “overload limited” 3 ton crane.

STORY #2: same crane client ABOUT A DECADE LATER

About a decade later, we got a frantic call from the tank fabricator. The call was from a new engineer because my Dad’s buddy has long since retired. He told us that earlier that day, an insurance inspector had been killed while using our overhead bridge crane. He explained that when they pressure test the tanks, the inspector filled them with water. Although the empty tank weighed less than 3 tons, the water filled tank weighed over 30 tons. 

The accident occurred when the inspector forgot to drain the tank and attempted to make a lift using one of the older “pre load-limiter” cranes. During the lift, the chain slings used to rig the tank (and sized for 3 ton loads) snapped and wildly recoiled, striking the inspector's head. He died instantly.

(You might have guessed my solution by now) 

It should be mandatory, that all cranes, including both new and existing cranes, be equipped with overload protection. Neither of which are currently mandatory.


Mistakes Happen Frequently and to Ignore This Fact is Absurd;

  • I worked in our shop during high school and college. It was a “job shop” and because of the nature of a “job shop” we lifted different things every day. Frequently we could only guess at the weight of what we were lifting and frequently we guessed wrong, unwittingly overloading the crane. 
  • As a crane builder, I can’t tell you the number of times I saw a truck being unloaded during which the  truck driver missed one of the chain tie-downs. When the crane operator made the lift, all of a sudden everyone is yelling in panic as the crane lifted both the load and the truck! Another case of an unintentional and severely overloaded crane.
  • Many times I’ve seen a crew attempt to lift a huge machine, only to find they missed one of the concrete anchors and were in effect trying to lift both the machine and the concrete floor! Another case of a catastrophically overloaded crane.
  • It’s not unusual to hear about a machine operator that fails to “unchuck” the work piece and ruins a machine while lifting both the machined part as well as the machine. Again overloading the crane while simultaneously ruining a million dollar CNC machine.

The day of the professional overhead crane operator sitting in a cab is long since over. I can count on one hand the number of full time cab operated cranes that I’ve seen in the last decade. Overhead cranes are, all too frequently, operated by non-professional production and maintenance workers. Further, even lifting professionals occasionally make the mistake of missing a chain tie down or just not having the load information prior to picking the load. 

It should be, no... 
it MUST be made mandatory, that all cranes, including both new and existing cranes, be equipped with overload protection.

This simple 19 word sentence, would do more to promote work place safety than all the thousands of words currently in the OSHA spec regarding overhead cranes, 
…and I know a family in Michigan that wishes it was the law a decade ago!