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Violations and Breakdowns: A Bifocal Approach

Meeting OSHA requirements is only a starting point, says Tad Dunville, director of corporate development at Ace World Companies.

This blog is primarily targeted at those who work in facilities that have overhead cranes, but the message can be applied to a multitude of industries and sectors regardless of the equipment they operate.

Consider that OSHA has over 2,000 inspectors responsible for the health and safety of 130 million workers, employed at more than 8 million worksites around the USA. That translates to about one compliance officer for every 59,000 workers.

Imagine the varied types of equipment that an inspector oversees even on a weekly basis, let alone throughout a year or a career with clipboard in hand. Equipment related to automated storage, conveyors, cranes, controls, ergonomics, lifts, loading docks, order fulfillment, guarding, racks and more might all feature in an OSHA inspector’s scope of work.

It’s impossible, therefore, even by their own admission, for them to be experts in every area. As it pertains to my industry, they’re not crane guys. Thus, there are inherent limitations to the nature of OSHA inspections. While it’s important to adhere to their criteria, it shouldn’t be perceived as the holy grail of safety, as is too often the case.

Generally OSHA is concerned with upholding safe working environments and it uses the framework of law to write up discrepancies. If an inspector sees an oil slick or crack in something, it will be highlighted as a hazard and reported accordingly. Really, these are things that a facility’s routine inspection and maintenance program should catch at their root cause.

OSHA is eagle-eyed to guards and covers, for example. Again, facilities should be diligent over making sure they have the appropriate guarding in place and that it is maintained. Where covers are on hinges, they should be returned to a safe position upon access or egress. If damage has occurred—a lift truck might have struck an open gate—it should be reported and repaired.

Rust, holes, condition of clearly visible wire rope and safety latches are other examples of easy to spot violations that might feature in an OSHA inspection. However, the aforementioned and above, are rarely responsible for crane breakdowns and accidents. It’s why organizations must all take a bifocal approach to ensure, while they honor and respect OSHA, they go much further as vertical sector or equipment experts to examine the tools of trade more closely.

Be candid about that in company policy and address the fact that two levels of criteria exist: 1. What are you going to do to pass an OSHA inspection? 2. What are you going to do to keep people safe? If a safety manager decides to produce a single program, make sure it covers both points and doesn’t stop at OSHA’s general, limited framework.

On a roll

Look at some of the common causes of overhead crane breakdowns, including those related to wheels and wire rope. Wheel assemblies are probably the most vulnerable to wearing out, leading to lost productivity. They’re not likely to be covered by an OSHA inspector, nor does its documentation cover anything like the depth available from the manufacturer or an expert consultant.

One study found that bearings, with rotating parts and multiple components, are the most difficult problem to solve in crane wheel assemblies. Insufficient lubrication was said to be the main cause of breakdown. Here, we’re talking about the places OSHA doesn’t look—not holes, rust and oil that can be seen from the other side of the workshop.

Why do you think steel mills, where the highest duty overhead cranes in the market work 24 hours a day, go so far beyond anything OSHA stipulates as good practice? On these heavy duty cranes, it is common on true vertical lifts for wire rope to repeatedly pass through other components, sometimes putting extreme wear on the same few inches of rope.

Worn rope can cause destruction on a far greater scale that some of the lesser violations referenced earlier. At the other end of the duty cycle scale, standby cranes (permanently installed for occasional use) might have frozen contactors due to lack of use. I can go on with examples but I think I’ve made my point.

Make sure a preventive maintenance program covers the hidden components, like crane wheels, not the superfluous. If a crane breaks down it can cause, at best, loss of productivity and revenue, at worst, damage to property and people. Make OSHA the starting point, not the be all and end all.

As a closing point on preventive maintenance, give a program time to develop and hone it to a specific operation and its lifting equipment. In some circumstances this might take a year or two. If the program has solved the problem with wheel assemblies but other matters still arise, factor them into a revised version until it’s comprehensive and truly preventive. OSHA might only feature in brief, which will be indicative of how thorough it is, not otherwise.

Thank you for reading. Follow us on Twitter at @AceWorldCompany

Tad Dunville
Director of Corporate Development, Ace World Companies