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Accidents with cranes, blocks and other lifting equipment are relatively common, unfortunately. In November a master was crushed to death between a crane and a loading bucket. Work with lifting equipment is one of this year’s priority areas during the work environment inspections carried out by the Swedish Transport Agency.

On 14 November last year, a working ship was coupled to a barge moored on the island of Rindö in the Stockholm archipelago. The master, who was alone, was operating a crane and unloading building sacks filled with stone. The sacks weigh about one tonne each and the master was operating the crane with a remote control. Something must have gone wrong during loading and the man was found crushed to death between the crane and the bucket of a loading machine.

“It will be difficult to find out exactly what happened because there are no witnesses,” says Jörgen Zachau from the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority (SHK), who is investigating the accident. “In general, though, we can assume that either there was something wrong with the crane or there was not. We can also check whether the remote control was faulty. But if the master stumbled or accidentally pressed the wrong button, we may never find out for sure.”

Crane boom fell off

This was far from the only tragedy involving the use of lifting equipment. A Transport Agency summary lists 23 accidents with lifting equipment on ships since 2014. Some of them have been very serious, resulting in broken bones or severe crushing injuries, whilst in other cases crew members have narrowly escaped tragedy. One example of such a fortunate escape took place during a notorious accident on the bulk carrier Oslo Wave in June 2015. The vessel was at berth in Bollstabruk, Kramfors municipality. A crane boom suddenly loosened and dropped into the hold while wood was being loaded onto the ship, missing a stevedore by as little as half a metre.

“Even though nobody was injured on that occasion, we investigated the event as a very serious accident because it was so close to being a disaster,” says Jörgen Zachau.

Christina Östberg, work environment coordinator at the Transport Agency, says that the authority has noted a large number of accidents with lifting equipment, often related to poor maintenance, supervision or communication. For this reason, work with lifting equipment will be one of the priority areas during the year when inspecting the work environment at sea.

The Work Environment Authority regulations set out a number of requirements to be met when working with lifting equipment, such as operators having sufficient knowledge and practical skills for the task in question. The operator must also have written authorisation from the employer before performing the work.

“However, the term “sufficient knowledge” is rather vague and there is no obligation for the person to have any formal training,” says Christina Östberg. “But there must be a written training certificate that describes what was covered during training. Some of the shipping companies I have been in contact with have solved this by sending one or two members of the crew on a course, who then taught others on board.”

Mats Berg is an official in the regulations department, unit for technology, at the Work Environment Authority. He says that the reason there are no detailed skills requirements in the Authority’s regulations on lifting equipment is because there are so many different types of cranes, each type having specific risks associated with it.

“It is up to the employer to ensure that those who work with lifting equipment have sufficient knowledge and that they are trained at the right level,” says Mats Berg. “This does not only apply to the crane operator, but to any other personnel who are involved in the work in different ways, such as the person attaching the load.”

Mats Berg also points out how important it is to remember to carry out a risk assessment every time a lifting device is going to be used.

“If someone has already made a risk assessment of a task, the next risk assessment will probably be fairly similar to the first one but it is still important to carry out a new assessment. It often happens that one or more factors have come up that may affect the work,” he says.

There is a check-list in Swedish on the Prevent website that should be used when working with lifting equipment. Search for “Checklistor” then “Lyftanordningar”, or use the link: checklists.prevent.se

Linda Sundgren, text

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