Operating a Crane in Extreme Weather Conditions

It wasn’t so many years ago that ‘extreme’ weather only seemed to affect other countries. Certainly in the UK, we would suffer bouts of heavy rain, and some flooding would occur, or loud thunder and lightning would move across the country, as a storm front passed through. But nothing compared to the weather extremes we have had in recent years.

In this blog, we look at heavy lift mobile cranes, and how their operation is affected by extreme heat, high winds, heavy rain or snow and even thunder and lightning.

Extreme summer heat

During those periods of summer heatwaves, where temperatures can reach 30+C, pre-operation checks should include rigorous checking of all crane fluid levels, and close inspection of all seals and pipes for seepage leaks caused by heat expansion.

Operators also need to consider their personal situation. Are they working in a cab where the sun is continuously beating down on the roof or through windows, causing the cab to begin to heat to a point where it could affect the operator’s wellbeing and concentration? Extra fluid should always be kept on-board, to regularly replace fluid lost in sweat. Hard hats should always be worn, and necks covered to minimise the risk of sunstroke. Should at any time the operator feel queasy, light-headed, or otherwise unwell, the operation should be halted.

It can often be tempting to use less PPE during the hotter months, wishing to strip back to the bare minimum. This is not an appropriate solution, however. PPE should always be worn and operators should find alternative ways to cool down, ensuring they stay hydrated.

The danger of high winds

One of the biggest contributory factors in fatal or serious injury accidents involving crane operations is the wind. Mobile crane manufacturers normally include the maximum wind speed for safe crane operations in their technical information notes, but that figure, (usually around 30mph) is purely a guide.

Things like the height of the lift, and what is being lifted, also have to be considered. The wind speed will increase the higher you go, which is why many cranes have anemometers fitted on the jib. To make things a little more complicated, it is not just the wind speed that makes the difference, but the wind pressure on the object being lifted which creates the problem. Wind pressure will have a greater effect on a flat sheet of a prefabricated building being lifted into place than it will on a single length of clay pipe being lifted vertically.

Whether to lift or not to lift in windy or gusty conditions, often comes down to operator common-sense, the use of an anemometer, and experience. At Emerson Crane Hire we never get tired of emphasising safety. If you’re ever in a situation where the wind speed is borderline, err on the side of caution, and hold the lift until the wind speed drops.

Working in heavy rain or snow

The main considerations for working in heavy rain or snow are ground conditions and visibility. If your construction site has been inundated by a heavy rainstorm, the first things to check are the ground conditions. Will the crane be operating on solid concrete or tarmacadam, or will the rain have made the ground unsuitable for heavy lifting mobile cranes. It may well be worth changing the vehicle to a crawler crane, one fitted with tracks.

If the ground is solid, but it continues to rain stair-rods or snow heavily, visibility is the next concern. The more complicated the lift, the greater the importance of good visibility, so the operator can clearly see every hand signal the banksman may make. Misinterpretation of just one signal, especially on a complicated lift, can result in a major accident or injury. Again, common-sense and experience play a big part in deciding whether to proceed or wait for conditions to improve.

Operating in thunder and lightning

Thunder and lightning is an indicator that operations should cease immediately.
Continuing to operate during a lightning storm can not only be dangerous for the crane operator but all of those on-site or passing by. A lightning strike can knock out the vehicle’s electrical and electronic systems, inducing total failure of power and possible safety systems, causing loads to drop, or the mobile crane’s operation to become erratic. The strike could also badly burn or electrocute the operator. Working in these extremes is simply not worth the risk.

Luckily, as our weather has become more unpredictable, our short-range weather forecasting has improved considerably. In adverse conditions, checking the local forecast on the day of the lift is always a good first step. Onsite, even if the lift operation has started, if thunder can be detected approaching your position, especially if quite close, the lift should be aborted, the load lowered, jib retracted, and the crane vacated until the danger has passed. In all heavy lift scenarios, whatever the weather, the safety of those on-site has to be of paramount importance, and take precedence over all other considerations.

Looking to hire a crane, or find out more about the safety precautions you must take? Get in touch with a member of our team today.