The winter months bring with them a number of challenges for anyone who works outdoors. The discomfort and health hazards brought about by cold temperatures, rain, snow and frost are compounded by the additional risks of poor visibility due to fog and to shorter, darker days. Certain industries suffer these risks more than others. The construction industry is already inherently perilous due to risks of falls from height, of being struck by heavy objects and the additional hazards involved in working with heavy machinery. Cranes can be especially susceptible to the hazards of winter weather conditions, so it is essential to take a number of safety precautions for cold weather crane operation.

Complexities of lifting operations in cold weather

Mobile crane safety in cold weather requires additional planning and care. Aside from the effect of weather on ground conditions, winter weather can have a number of effects on machines and on operators that must be taken into account:

  • Machines 

Although designs are continually improved, cranes are made from materials that are temperature-sensitive. Metal contracts in the cold and expands in the heat, and the viscosity of fluids can be affected by the cold. Water can seep in or gather around parts of the machine due to rain, snow or condensation, and this water may freeze.

When using a crane in cold weather, it is important to follow the warm-up sequence as detailed by the manufacturer.  

Extra use of heating, lights and wipers can put a strain on the battery, so it’s best to ensure that maintenance is kept up to date. Gathered snow or ice can also impact the weight of a machine or load weights, so care must be taken to clear ice and snow.

Crane manufacturers detail safety precautions for cold weather in their manuals. These precautions include the reduction of load weights at temperatures below 0 degrees celsius and the temperature at which machine use should be halted altogether, usually at between -30 to -40 degrees.

  • Operators

According to HSE regulations, there is no minimum working temperature for humans. That said, it is understood that working in the cold entails a number of risks to health and to task execution. The discomfort of working in cold temperatures can be an important distraction. Attempting to work in snow flurries, fog or dark conditions reduces visibility and increases the risk of mistakes. Ice and rain increase the risk of slips and there is a greater tendency to rush through tasks in the cold, exacerbating the chance of accidents happening.

Shivering, fatigue, disorientation and loss of coordination are all symptoms of cold stress. It is imperative that operators and other workers on the team remain vigilant and act responsibly to promptly detect any cases of cold stress in themselves or others, as cold stress has a dangerous impact on worker health and on task performance.

Mobile crane safety in cold weather is just one aspect of winter weather crane operation. Adverse weather conditions can greatly impact mobile crane operation safety and have been the cause of innumerable accidents all over the world:

High Wind

High winds are the bane of a crane operator’s job. Aside from the complexities added by wind chill for all workers involved, winds pose a great threat to lifting operations and have been responsible for some of the deadliest crane accidents in the World. Gusts of wind may push a load off track and hooks and slings must be carefully monitored, as these must not swing in the wind.

There are strict regulations surrounding the use of cranes in windy conditions, however operators are strongly encouraged to abandon any operation they deem to be too risky, even if on paper the operation may look safe.

Heavy Rain

Heavy rain presents a number of mobile crane safety issues. Visibility can be seriously affected by heavy rain, and this adds an extra layer of complexity to lifting operations. The two greatest risks brought about by heavy rain are load slipping and the dangers presented by slippery or boggy ground conditions.

Cranes are extremely heavy machines, so extra attention must be paid to outriggers and crane mats when working on soft ground to avoid sinking or toppling.

Snow, sleet and ice

Snow, sleet and ice all create an additional and very serious risk of slips and of slipping loads. Additionally, gathered snow, sleet and ice add weight: on the machine, on the load or in both places.

Fog and poor lighting conditions

Reduced visibility due to winter conditions (poor lighting, fog, drizzle) is a serious consideration as it directly affects the accuracy of lifting operation execution. Crane operators and ground workers alike must remain vigilant as to the working conditions and be prepared to postpone an operation if it is potentially unsafe.

Crane safety precautions for cold weather

Operating a crane in cold weather is extremely challenging and requires that a number of safety precautions are taken. In cold weather, be sure to:

  • Prevent ice and snow buildup on machines: Wherever possible, store machines indoors, covered or under shelter
  • Ensure machine maintenance and servicing is up to date.
  • Warm-up machines before use: Always warm-up machines in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure you factor in the necessary time for this into the work schedule.
  • Be vigilant of the site conditions: Keep the job site clear of snow and obstructions. Check ground conditions regularly as wet or boggy ground could pose a sinking hazard for heavy machinery.
  • Consider worker welfare: Ensure workers are fully equipped for work in cold conditions and that appropriate site welfare facilities and PPE are available.

If you are planning a winter lifting operation and you would like to deal with a company with an excellent reputation in mobile crane safety, speak to Emerson Cranes. With an impressive and varied fleet and a history of carrying out complex lifting operations in and around London, we can offer expert advice and reliable, professional crane hire services. Call us on 020 8059 2546 and speak to one of our friendly team members today.