Boeing News Release (2002)
“The Boeing Company extends its sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of the employee who was fatally injured in an accident at the Boeing site in Auburn, WA. The employee, who worked for Boeing Equipment Services, was performing routine maintenance on a machine in the Integrated AeroStructures building when the incident occurred. He was immediately transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he later died. The cause of the accident is under investigation. We are deeply saddened by this very difficult and tragic event.”
Anyone can appreciate the sentiment expressed in the press release. However, it does not adequately relate what actually happened. Here is the rest of the story:
The 49-year-old Boeing worker was performing maintenance on a giant, computer-controlled machine that makes parts out of metal blocks using hydraulics to control its movement. The hydraulic lines are pressurized to 20,000 PSI – even when the machine is shut off. Working on equipment such as this requires attention to detail. A careless employee is liable to suffer dire consequences.
The potential for trouble should have been obvious to this sixteen-year member of the Machinists Union, and yet, despite redundant safety procedures, tags, warning signs, and a fearful co-worker, worker began to remove a hydraulic line without relieving the pressure.
The bolts holding the line in place were so tight that he had to locate a 4-foot section of pipe to attach to his ratchet to give him enough leverage to loosen the bolt. For some, that would have been warning enough that the line was pressurized.
Four high-strength bolts attached the line to the machine. The soon-to-be-ex-employee had removed three, and loosened the fourth, when the over-stressed bolt snapped. A foot-long, 3″ diameter brass sleeve was inside the line to prevent the hose from kinking. It shot out and hit the mechanic in the forehead with such force that it knocked him back eight feet, ricocheted off his head, and hit a crane fifty feet overhead.
The maintenance worker never knew what hit him.
What does this have to do with hoisting safety?
Despite the equipment or the job, certain safety principles always apply. One of those principles is cleverly summed up in the slogan, “Before you do it, take time to think through it.”
Always plan, regardless of experience.
The very first sequential safety principle is planning the job before doing it. One of the more interesting points of the sad, but true, opening story is that the worker had 16 years of experience!
The lesson to be learned from this is that experience is never a substitute for planning. In fact, it might even be fair to say that the more experience one has, the more that planning becomes important. Experience sometimes has a tendency to breed complacency. Complacency is one of safety’s cruelest enemies.
“Complacency occurs when you’ve been doing something one way for so long without incident that you assume there can never be an incident. Whatever it is that you’re doing must be effective because, until now, there have been no issues. It’s the classic “I’ve been doing it this way for 20 years, and nothing has ever happened to me” Syndrome.”
A Plan for Every Day; a Plan for Every Job
Crane operators seldom experience the repetitive nature that people do in many other jobs. The entire universe of hoisting operations is ever-changing. No two days are exactly the same. No two jobs are exactly the same. No two lifts are exactly the same. No amount of experience can eliminate – or reduce – the need for planning prior to lifting, which leads us to:
Rule #1 – Create a plan for prior to every lift. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been in hoisting or how many lifts you have done in your career – or on a given day. The next load is always different than the last and – every load before the last. The one thing that experience should teach is that planning is the first step in every lifting procedure. It is not something you do before a lift. It is the first step in lifting.
Rule #2 – Adequate planning should include equipment assessment. It would be irresponsible to simply say, “Okay, guys, here’s the plan.” All plans must begin with an assessment of all aspects of the job to be done. That includes assessments of the condition and capabilities of
- All equipment, mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic
- All ancillary equipment, including lines, straps, hooks, fasteners, and communication devices
No job, not even a single lift should be attempted until all equipment has been meticulously assessed.
Rule #3 – Adequate planning should include site assessment. It is unsafe to assume that site conditions have remained exactly the same as the previous day. Be careful of that complacency issue. It is just as dangerous to assume that a single day does not make a difference. The likelihood that everything is exactly as it was when you left it is smaller than you may imagine.
- Check for potentially hazardous conditions
- Check for conditions that may not be strictly defined as hazardous but that are, nonetheless, risky.
No part of any plan should ever include taking risks. Hoisting is already risky business. Intentionally compounding the risks is like creating an engraved invitation for unintended consequences.
Rule #4 – Adequate planning should include personnel assessment. Three things should be taken into consideration when it comes to the personnel on site.
- Do you have enough people to conduct the lift safely?
- Are those people adequately trained on the task they will be expected to perform?
- Are they sober and alert?
A Plan Based on Your Assessments
If the first step in hoisting is planning, the first step in planning is conducting thorough assessments. Once you know that every aspect of the job is accounted for as adequate, you can put a plan together. If any part of the assessments doesn’t pass muster, the plan – for safety’s sake – should always be to not proceed.
Whether seeking a new license or continuing education, we invite you to take our Hoisting License classes for free. We never charge a fee until you have successfully completed a course. And, of course, every course is about safety.