Warning Signs

Construction employers increasingly see crane anti-collision technology as a way to elevate industry safety standards.

When Vancouver was planning for the 2010 Winter Olympics, safety specialists at ITC Construction decided to put a mammoth prevention project of their own to the test.

The reason? During ITC’s involvement with the construction of the Olympic Village in downtown Vancouver in 2008 – 2009, lTC director of corporate health and safety Jeff Lyth worried that the presence of 10 to 12 cranes on one site posed a high risk of collision between crane operators—a common Issue on multlple-employer construction sites.

“We had seen instances of overlapping radii while crane operators do hundreds and hundreds of movements each day,” Lyth says. “These can become as risky as they are essential.”

For Lyth the solution was to employ an automated warning system to prevent these deadly crane collisions—rather than relying on the less-than-failsafe method of human communication.

Since the Olympic Village construction began four years ago, ITC has been quietly sharing and promoting the use of crane anti-collision technology on its other multi-employer sites as well, as a way to elevate best practices within the industry. “I gave a hats-off to others in the industry who see the value of this technology, and are moving in this direction as well,” Lyth says.

The technology ITC has been using is one of a number of digital crane anti-collision systems available in Canada and elsewhere; it is presently operating in seven units in B.C. WorkSafe BC occupational safety officeer Al Beard says the technology can be calibrated to calculate safe distances between multiple cranes in a common area. “It uses a mounted LCD screen that acts like a warning system for other operators—similar in concept to the sound newer vehicles emit when backing up,” Lyth explains.

The wireless system is equipped with a magnetic sensor that detects and reports on the operating status of other cranes in the group. It can also be programmed to detect any potential power line contacts. All operators have information on the collision direction and can identify potentially colliding tower cranes.

Lyth says an automated system is a huge improvement over radio-to-radio systems crane operators traditionally use to warn each other of impending approach. “In that case, they’re basically relying on their own observation and eyesight”

Since lTC began using the new technology, Lyth has noticed a growing number of B.C. crane operators voluntarily following suit by using an automated warning system – in addition to verbal cues – when cranes are at risk of colliding. In fact, Beard says crane collisions are one of the biggest risks in the industry, second only to the hazards associated with contacting high-voltage electrical conductors and falling loads. “So safety standards being raised from within mark a welcome shift,» Beard says.

Beard says anti-collision technology is already mandatory in some parts of Europe and Asia and regulated in parts of the U.S. and some Canadian provinces. He points out that crane anti-collision products provide crane operators with an additional warning system, while reducing the high cost of accidental crane contacts. “It gives them the option to eliminate costly crane-to-crane contacts as well as contacts with high-voltage conductors.”

HP Construction owner Bill Iles has gone on to use the anti-collision technology since he was introduced to it as a contractor on the Olympic Village site. “I could see it becoming a mandatory safety standard,” he says. “Anybody can have a momentary lapse.” Iles, a 20-year construction expert, says the system offered added assurance during the company’s recent downtown construction projects and currently in Richmond, where HP operates four cranes.

Similarly, Andy Campbell, site supervisor for Loewen Construction, finds the anti-collision system user-friendly. “A lot of the onus has been on operators to constantly watch and communicate with each other,” he says. “This system takes some of the human error out of the operation.”

Beard points out that wireless remote cameras are now being introduced into the crane industry. “With this new technology, the operator no longer has to rely on radio communication for operating instructions, which at times is unreliable. Now the operator will be able to see the rigging and the load; this has already proved safer for crane operation and has increased productivity as well.”

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