A safe worksite is everybody’s responsibility

An operator is not a solo performer, unlike a truck driver. Operating a tower crane can only be executed by a team with proper means of communication, according to NFT Specialized in Tower Cranes.

 NFT cranes at the Water's Edge residential development on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.
NFT cranes at the Water's Edge residential development on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.


With the increasing safety measures and safety of tower cranes, people tend to neglect the human element in operations, according to Ayad El Haj, HSE manager, NFT Specialized in Tower Cranes.

“We constantly face challenges when it comes to ‘means of communication’, which is stated in all local and international safety procedures. It cannot be stressed enough, and we keep educating other teams on site that an operator is not a solo performer, unlike a truck driver. Operating a tower crane can only be executed by a team with proper means of communication,” says Ayad.

The golden rule is that ‘Employers shall provide clear instructions to all employees that only the appointed signaller/slingers are to communicate with the crane operator. Crane operators shall also be instructed not to accept signals from any person other than the appointed signaller/slinger.’

The ground team, especially the appointed signaller/slinger, needs to be as well trained and certified as the operator.

“We should never underestimate clear work terminologies, especially when it comes to workers from different nationalities and languages communicating critical task instructions. There is a shared responsibility and distribution of roles among the operator, planning team, and ground workers. At any site, it is a must to ensure ground workers are clear of the crane operation area and are nowhere beneath the load while the equipment is being operated. A safe worksite is everyone’s responsibility. Workers on the ground should be reminded frequently to keep a safe perimeter around cranes at all times. This is one precaution that needs to be reinforced at daily safety briefings,” says Ayad.

One of the modern hazards and advanced technology challenges faced by crane suppliers is whether to allow mobile phones or not inside the cabin.

Similar to commercial driving, crane operations require undivided attention. When the earlier rules and regulations were set, there were no smart phones or social media distractions to consider. We do not prohibit possession or usage of mobile phones inside the cabins for emergencies, and due to limitations in certain projects where we have to use them as signalling devices. However, we highly stress on, and educate our operators, not to engage in any practice or activity that diverts his/her attention while actually operating the equipment, and signal communication devices used by operators must have hands-free systems,” says Ayad.

Ayad comments on the potential of simulator for operator training.  Crane simulators offer a more economical way to offer basic training to operators a significantly lower cost compared to using real cranes. Simulation scenarios can include any chosen ‘risks and variations in the working environment’, such as adverse weather conditions, visibility, position of the sun, power lines, water, bridges, material or site equipment, buildings, height, load charts or the crane, operating radius, etc. This might be useful for beginners, refresher courses, or virtual testing.

“The market today has wide range of options, starting with simple simulation software that can be shared on a regular computer network, up to the most advanced cabin-like simulation seats set up with 7 huge LCD screens; this is the closest you can get to real life situations. Despite how incredibly realistic simulators can be, they are not real-life experiences,” says Ayad.

Ayad points out that operating a tower crane is not the only responsibility of a tower crane operator. The daily shift of an operator starts with the check list, the climb to the cabin, feeling the altitude, communication with other workers, and constant monitoring of the surrounding working area for potential hazards.

“As for the operation process itself, each crane has a different feel, even those of the same brand and/or model. There is an indispensable corrective instinct that grows with real life experience that an operator needs to be in control, especially when an unexpected situation occurs. Regardless of the crane itself, a lifting operation is part of a plan executed by a team on a certain site location, each can be unique and customized for a particular lift. At the end of a shift, an operator’s job does not end with turning off the equipment. There is a check list to be performed by the operator to secure the tower crane, and this cannot be taught by a simulator,” says Ayad.

“During the past two years we have been communicating with different companies and studying several types of existing simulation programs. We have to say that the present technological advancement in simulation is impressive. We are in talks with some companies who are focusing on tower crane operators’ simulators so this could be part of our future investment. In the meantime, we created the Tower Crane Operator Academy headed by our HSE department whereby we screen, test, train and deploy our 150 tower crane operators according to the tower crane models and site requirements,” he adds.

20 NFT cranes are working at the Meydan One site in Dubai.

Currently, NFT is involved in several prominent projects across the GCC with a considerable number of cranes working on each site. They include 16 Potain MCT 205 cranes and 15 Orbit hoists working at the Water's Edge residential development on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi; 14 MCi85 cranes at a Capriole project in Abu Dhabi; 20 cranes at Meydan One, Dubai; 3 MCT 205 cranes at the Movenpick Resort and Hampton by Hilton hotel developments on Al Marjan Island, Ras Al Khaimah; 26 cranes at the Riyadh Metro site, Saudi Arabia; 24 cranes and 8 hoists at the Al-Zour LNG Import Terminal development in Kuwait; 7 MDT 389 and 1 MC 235 cranes at the Kuwait New Maternity Hospital development; 26 cranes at the Kuwait International Airport expansion; and 3 MC 465 and two other Potain cranes at the Marassi Mall development in Bahrain.

26 NFT cranes are working at the Riyadh Metro site, at different stations and with multiple contractors.

Nabil Al Zahlawi, CEO and managing partner, NFT, shares his crane demand projections and fleet expansion: “We expect the demand for luffing tower cranes to continue to rise. Expansion of our fleet of luffing cranes will enable us to work on more projects in the GCC where luffing tower cranes are becoming more popular. We plan to replace most of our luffing cranes in the UK with hydraulic cranes. We also project a higher demand for self-erecting cranes as a substitute for mobile and crawler cranes. Self-erecting cranes are suitable for low-rise construction, with quick set up, high performance and low operating costs. Recently, we purchased a few units of the Potain MDT 809, the biggest topless crane in Potain’s fleet that was launched at the bauma 2019 expo.”

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