The OSHA Crane Rule, effective in 2010, clearly defines the requirements for crane inspections. The rule defines the frequency and minimum requirements for compliance. Crane inspections are really nothing new. We have developed our methods and procedures through years of experience. The question is: Are We Doing Enough?
In my earlier years in the trades as a crane inspector and later as crane fleet manager we preformed the annual inspections with two goals in mind. First, we would complete a thorough, Federally required, “safety” inspection, visually looking over the total machine, checking tolerances and wear on critical load bearing components. Second, we inspected non-safety items to establish the general health of the machine. Part two made sense as we were already there and have the crane out of service. Part three, as an extension of part two, included sampling and spectrographic analysis of all fluids in the crane per a specific schedule based on hours of operation. Over time, the fluid analysis allowed us to predict the failure of various mechanical components. These components were repaired or replaced before a catastrophic failure occurred. Of course, record keeping and follow up was critical, and mandatory for part one, two and three of the inspections.
More recently, while charged with over sight of very large cranes (1500 to 5000 ton capacity), we recommended performing “Critical Load Path Tension Analysis” prior to assembly and in preparation for what we now call “Super Lifts”. This process includes non-destructive testing (NDT) of major components that will be in tension during the lifts. We typically test 10% of these components and anything else that appears questionable. If any deficiency is noted during round one of testing we continue on to include 50% of these components. Although we never experienced it, if any additional deficiencies are noted, we would test 100% or everything physically possible. In spite of several cases of deficiencies being disclosed, this process is has not been widely received as the conventional methods of NDT required removal of the paint to obtain reliable results. Understandably, it is costly and the crane owners object to removing paint from their extremely expensive machines.
With todays advances in technology there are improved methods for non-destructive testing (NDT) that could be considered. I was recently introduced to an advanced “sheer wave” inspection process that does not require removal of paint. The surface must be clean from grease and dirt but the paint does not have to be removed. Barrett Thomas, President of NCC Inspections in Houston Texas, explained that they are utilizing this process and have experienced valid reliable results. Some would say the technology is not 100% reliable but I argue that if only one crack is found and that in turn prevents a major accident it is still better than doing nothing at all. I also argue that as we use these new methods of inspection they will become more reliable over time. One has to start somewhere. As with the development of a fluid analysis program, there is a learning curve. The NDT results would provide a historical record of problem areas as well as eliminate some other areas of concern.
Considering the current technology available, should we, as an industry, take the annual inspection to the next level? I believe we should include NDT as a routine part of the annual inspection. I have some concerns about the alloy steels that are being used in new cranes that we will discuss later.
We should be looking closely at all load bearing and load sustaining components on a yearly basis. The 10% – 50% – 100% method seems like the best approach as we gain experience. Obviously, law does not require this type of inspection but the optimum condition and performance of the cranes is a mandatory requirement.