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Industry Voices

A question of duty
Are crane operators responsible for the
actions of others?
By Jim Headley
A recent lawsuit illustrated how party will try to find a way to pin the
common it still is for crane operators to blame on them. Why are such
be blamed for accidents, even when the accusations so common?
accident is thefault of others.
The job was winding down and about The distinction between an operator's
the only thing left to do was load out moral responsibility and his actual job others to fulfill and execute lheir duties
some of the remaining scrap. A truck responsibilities is often unclear. No one correctly. The problem occurs when
was ordered and a crane was requested would deny that operators have a moral there is a fai lure on the part of the
to perform the lifting. After theoperator obligation to help protect those they riggers or supervisor which results in an
and riggers received instructions from work with from accidents, even when accident. It is in situations like lhis that
the supervisor, the riggers signaled the they have no direct involvement in a the operator gets blamed unjustly.
operator to lift the scrap materials and particular job. But everyone at the Just as riggers are limited in how much
place them on a flat bed truck. As the jobsite has such an obligation to point control they have over the operation of
pile of scrap rose higher, a piece out unsafe conditions. The issue when the crane, operators have inherent
suddenly rolled off the truck, killing one determining who is responsible for an limitations that prevent them from
of the riggers. Fingers began to point accident is not who failed to fulfill a overseeing the actions of the riggers.
and eventuaiJy the operator was blamed moral obligation, but who neglected the The operator is confmed to the cab and
for not recognizing the hazard duties of the job at hand. does not have total view of the load and
beforehand and refusing to make the lift. To illustrate this, let's assume that you rigging. At times he cannot see the load
Usually in a crane accident- are directed by a police officer to drive at all. Even if the load is accessible,
particularly one resulting in injury or through an intersection. As you proceed leaving the crane unattended to check
death-someone will ultimately be held through you are hit by another car. Who the rigging could in itself create an
responsible. But placing blame on is at fault-you, for not seeing the other unsafe condition.
operators involved in rigging accidents car, or the police officer? Of course the To operate the crane safely, the
like this is not realistic, and is plain police officer is responsible! Even operator also has to rely on directions
unjust though you were driving the car, the from a signal person. Standards and
Now before someone says, yes, but officer controlled the situation and was regulations-not to mention the
the operator should have ... " let me in a position to better see the ather operator's inability to clearly see the
point out a few things that might have traffic. The bottom line is that directing load-mandate lhat he respond exactly
been missed. First, this accident had traffic was theofficer's job and that job to the signals given. Furthermore, there
nothing to do with the operation of the has responsibilities. Likewise, if an are aspects of rigging that require a
crane; and second. the operator was operator must rely on the actions of certain degree of knowledge and
instructed and directed as to where to olhers to perform his job, bow can he be expertise that the operator may not have.
place the materials. held responsible for accidents resulting To hold an operator responsible for the
from lheir mistakes? failure of others is simply unjust. The
Moral responsibility or job duty? operator is in no position to oversee
Another mistmderstanding exists about total operation, and can in no way be
Of course crane operators are not held the division ofjob responsibilities at the responsible for what he cannot see from
responsible for every single rigging worksite, resulting in confusion about the crane's cab. Unfortunately,
accident, but in most cases the opposing who should be blamed when accidents allegations against the operator are
occur. There are generally three made with profit as the motive instead
Jim Headley has 16 years experience responsible parties involved in making a of making a sincere attempt to establish
as a crane operator and currently lift: the operator, the riggers and the responsib le party. Perhaps a
serves on the ANSI B30 commiuee. someone to oversee the job. The comment made by a disc jockey sums it
He is the president of Crane Institute operator is responsible for the crane. up best. He said, "I knew it was really
of America, Inc., Maitland, Fla. The The riggers are responsible for the load cold this morning when I saw a lawyer
Crane lnstitute specializes in crane and the supervisor oversees and directs with his hands in his own pockets.''
training and operator certification. the lii ft. Each party depends on the Write in 512 on inquiry card

12 July-August 1993 CraneWorks