Operating cranes is complex and dangerous and workers must have the necessary skills and capabilities to do it safely. Every year there are injuries and deaths from work involving cranes:
- Between 2003–15 47 workers were killed in incidents involving cranes.
- On average there are around 240 serious injury claims every year.
- The most common causes of injuries are muscular stress while handling objects (21%), being hit by moving objects (16%), falls from a height (11%), being trapped between stationary and moving objects (8%) and being hit by falling objects (7%).
- The most common types of injuries are trauma to joints, ligaments muscles and tendons (41%), wounds, lacerations, amputations and internal organ damage (27%) and fractures (19%).
- The most common occupations involving crane incidents are machine and stationary plant drivers (29%), automotive engineering and trades workers (19%) and construction and mining labourers (12%).
Cranes: a definition
A crane is an item of plant used to raise or lower a load and move it horizontally.
There are a range of fixed (tower, bridge, gantry, portal boom, vessel-mounted) and mobile (slewing, non-slewing, vehicle loading) cranes.
A range of multi-purpose powered mobile plant, including multi-purpose tool carriers and telescopic handlers, may be classed as cranes in some operating configurations.
Work health and safety duties
Everyone in the workplace has a WHS duty when it comes to operating cranes. A range of people have specific responsibilities for cranes including the:
- crane designer, manufacturer, importer and/or supplier
- crane owner and others with management or control of the crane or the workplace where a crane will operate
- competent person who inspects cranes
- crane operator.
Managing risks associated with cranes
You should manage risks by following a systematic process of:
- Identifying hazards—find out what could go wrong and what could cause harm.
- Assessing risks if necessary—understand the nature of the harm each hazard could cause, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening.
- Controlling risks—implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
- Reviewing control measures to ensure they are working as planned.
For further guidance on the risk management process see the model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks and Identify, assess and control hazards.
When it comes to cranes the following can help you identify potential hazards:
- Observe the workplace to identify areas where cranes operate and how they interact with other vehicles, pedestrians and fixed structures like overhead electric lines.
- Ask the crane operator, crane crew and others about problems they encounter at the workplace including with operation, inspection, maintenance, repair, transport and storage requirements.
- Review your inspection, test and maintenance records, for example log books and incident and injury records including near misses.
Assess the risk
In many cases the risks and related control measures will be well known. In other cases, you may need to carry out a risk assessment to identify the likelihood of somebody being harmed by the hazard and how serious it could be
People who work with or near cranes are most at risk. Some of the risks when using a crane include:
- structural failure, overturning, or collapse of the crane
- contact or collision of the crane or its load with people or other plant and structures
- falling objects.
A risk assessment can help you determine what action you should take to control the risk and how urgently the action needs to be taken.
Take action to control the risk
The first thing to consider is whether crane related hazards can be completely removed from the workplace.
- For example, designing items of a size, shape and weight so they can be delivered, handled or assembled at the location where they will be used without the need for a crane.
If it is not reasonably practicable to completely eliminate the risk then consider the following options in the order they appear below to minimise risks, so far as is reasonably practicable:
- Substitute the hazard for something safer, for example replace a crane operating cabin with a restricted field of vision with one that has a clear field of vision or use a remote control, for example a pendant control.
- Isolate the hazard from people, for example use concrete barriers to create an exclusion zone to separate crane operations from workers and powered mobile plant.
- Use engineering controls, for example enclosing the operator with a FOPS to minimise the risk of the operator being hit by a falling object.
If after implementing the above control measures a risk still remains, consider the following controls in the order below to minimise the remaining risk, so far as is reasonably practicable:
- Use administrative controls, for example schedule crane operations to avoid or reduce the need for pedestrians and vehicles to interact with the crane in the area of operation.
- Use PPE, for example gloves, hard hats, high visibility vests, ear plugs/muffs and eye protection.
A combination of the controls set out above may be used if a single control is not enough to minimise the risks.
Deciding what is reasonably practicable includes the availability and suitability of control measures, with a preference for using substitution, isolation or engineering controls to minimise risks before using administrative controls or PPE. Cost may also be relevant but you can only consider this after all other factors have been taken into account.
You must consult your workers and their health and safety representatives, if any, when deciding how to manage the risks of using a crane in the workplace.
If there is more than one business or undertaking involved at your workplace, you must consult them to find out who is doing what and work together so risks are eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
This may involve discussing site-specific requirements including the type of crane to use, operator training and traffic management.
For further information on consultation requirements see the model Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination.
Choosing a crane
Before you choose a crane, you should discuss your workplace needs with suppliers and identify cranes most suited to the workplace and the work it will be used for. You should take into consideration:
- the complete life cycle of the crane
- how long you are likely to keep the crane
- how often the crane is likely to be used
- the conditions under which it will be used
- the maximum loads the crane is likely to bear.
Some of the things to look for when choosing a crane include:
- safe access points—ladders, footholds, steps and grabs rails
- seat design—comfort and back support
- visibility—mirror, window and windscreen design
- environmental controls—temperature control units to avoid worker heat stress.
Hiring a crane
Anyone hiring or leasing a crane has duties as both a supplier and a person with management or control of the crane at the workplace. They must check the crane is safe to use and properly maintained and provide specific information including instructions on how to operate it safely.
- Before you hire a crane you should check that it is suitable for its intended use. You should also consider whether you need to hire a crane only or you need a crane with a trained and licensed crane crew.
If you do not have the knowledge or expertise about crane specifications, limitations and operational requirements, you should talk to the crane supplier and provide relevant information about the work to be done, the workplace and the type of lifts to be completed so the supplier can provide a suitable crane.
Registering a crane
Some cranes must be registered before they can be used in the workplace. Cranes that are registrable plant must be design registered before they are supplied and used. Further information on registration requirements can be provided by the WHS regulator.
For further information on registrable plant including cranes see the model Code of Practice: Managing the risks of plant in the workplace. You can also contact your WHS regulator for further information.
Inspection and pre-use safety checks
Inspecting and testing cranes must include:
- major inspection required for registrable mobile and tower cranes
- regular inspection and testing required for plant
- inspection and testing for plant item re-registration.
Before a crane is used tests, inspections and specific adjustments must be carried out to make sure the crane can be used safely. This includes:
- workplace factors including ground load bearing capacity and wet or windy conditions are taken into account
- confirming the crane will not adversely affect or be affected by other plant and structures in the area
- installation and commissioning activities are supervised by a competent person
- assembling the components in the correct sequence using the right tools and equipment
- limit switches and load indication devices are functioning and correctly calibrated
- the crane being installed and commissioned to the designer’s or manufacturer’s instructions and specified technical standards
- the crane being stable
- safe entry to and exit from the crane—including in an emergency.
A preventative inspection, maintenance and testing program will help ensure a crane is safe to use.
- Inspections and maintenance should be done in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions or, if these are not available, a competent person’s specifications or according to relevant technical standards and engineering principles.
For further information on crane inspection and maintenance see the Guide to inspecting and maintaining cranes.
An emergency plan must be prepared for each workplace where a crane will be operated. It must be tested in the workplace and include emergency procedures like effective response and evacuation, notifying emergency services and medical treatment. Emergency procedure training must be provided to workers.
Contact numbers for emergency services should be easily seen or found. Workers should know what system is in place to contact emergency services and how to use it.
The type of documentation you may need will depend on the type of work being carried out.
- For example work that involves tilt-up or precast concrete and work that is carried out in an area at a workplace where there is any movement of powered mobile plant is ‘high risk construction work’ under the model WHS Regulations, and requires a SWMS.
A SWMS will identify and specify the hazards relating to the work and the risks to health and safety. It will also describe the measures to be implemented to control the risks and describe how the control measures are to be implemented, monitored and reviewed.
For more detailed information on setting up and operating cranes see our General Guide for Cranes.
Operating a crane is high risk work and requires a high-risk work licence. The various high-risk work licences for crane operation are detailed in the table below.
|High-risk work licence||Description of class of high risk work|
|Tower crane||Use of a tower crane|
|Self-erecting tower crane||Use of a self-erecting tower crane|
|Derrick crane||Use of a derrick crane|
|Portal boom crane||Use of a portal boom crane|
|Bridge and gantry crane||Use of a bridge crane or gantry crane that is:
|Vehicle loading crane||Use of a vehicle loading crane with a capacity of 10 metre tonnes or more, including the application of load estimation and slinging techniques to move a load.|
|Non slewing mobile crane||Use of a non-slewing mobile crane with a capacity exceeding 3 tonnes|
|Slewing mobile crane—with a capacity up to 20 tonnes||Use of a slewing mobile crane with a capacity of 20 tonnes or less|
|Slewing mobile crane—with a capacity up to 60 tonnes||Use of a slewing mobile crane with a capacity of 60 tonnes or less|
|Slewing mobile crane—with a capacity up to 100 tonnes||Use of a slewing mobile crane with a capacity of 100 tonnes or less|
|Slewing mobile crane—with a capacity over 100 tonnes||Use of a slewing mobile crane with a capacity exceeding 100 tonnes|
Examples of cranes that require the operator to hold a high-risk work licence
Set out below is information about some of the kinds of cranes that require the operator to hold a high-risk work licence. This is not an exhaustive list. If you require further information, contact your WHS regulator.
Bridge and gantry cranes
A bridge crane:
- consists of a bridge beam or beams that are mounted to end carriages at each end
- is capable of travelling along elevated runways
- has one or more hoisting mechanisms arranged to traverse across the bridge.
A gantry crane:
- consists of a bridge beam or beams supported at one or both ends by legs mounted to end carriages
- is capable of travelling on supporting surfaces or deck levels, whether fixed or not
- has a crab with one or more hoisting units arranged to travel across the bridge.
A gantry crane with a carriage that travels on an elevated runway on one side and a leg mounted to a carriage on the other side is sometimes referred to as a ‘one-legged gantry crane’, a ‘combination crane’ or a ‘semi-gantry crane’.
For further information see our Bridge and gantry cranes information sheet.
Vehicle loading cranes
A vehicle loading crane refers to one that is mounted on a vehicle to load and unload items off the vehicle.
With the introduction of larger capacity vehicle loading cranes and proportional control—that is the ability
to operate multiple crane functions simultaneously—vehicle loading cranes may also be used for more traditional crane operations where the load is lifted:
- from the vehicle to an elevated area at a workplace, for example lifting packs of timber from the vehicle directly to a building floor
- both to and from locations remote from the vehicle on which the crane is mounted
- into place and held while it is connected to a structure, for example installing a sign.
Where a vehicle loading crane is used for a purpose other than loading and unloading the vehicle on which it is mounted, a slewing mobile crane HRW licence may be required to operate the vehicle loading crane.
Unless a vehicle loading crane has been designed for pick-and-carry operations it must not be used
in this way.
For further information see our High risk working licensing for vehicle loading cranes information sheet.
A vessel-mounted crane is a crane mounted on a vessel to lift loads. It may be permanently fixed to the vessel or a mobile crane temporarily positioned on the vessel.
Vessel-mounted cranes can be used for a range of tasks including:
- moving loads on and off or between vessels
- suspending and holding loads in position
- pile removal
A mobile crawler crane mounted on a barge
The three general types of tower cranes used in Australia are:
- hammerhead (including topless)
Under the model WHS Regulations:
- Tower crane means one that has a boom or a jib mounted on a tower structure.
- For high risk work licensing purposes a tower crane—if a jib crane—may be a horizontal or luffing jib type and the tower structure may be demountable or permanent, but ‘tower crane’ doesn’t include a self‑erecting tower crane.
- A self-erecting tower crane is one that is not disassembled into a tower element and a boom or jib element in the normal course of use, and where erecting and dismantling processes are an inherent part of the crane's function.
For further information see our Guide to tower cranes.
A mobile crane is capable of travelling over a supporting surface without the need for fixed runways and relying only on gravity for stability.
There are three general types of mobile cranes operating in Australia:
- hydraulic boom cranes
- lattice boom cranes including crawler cranes
- non-slewing (pick-up-and-carry) cranes.
A slewing mobile crane incorporates a boom or jib that can be slewed, but does not include earth moving equipment such as a front‑end loader, backhoe or excavator configured for crane operation.
A non-slewing mobile crane—also known as a pick-up-and-carry crane—is a mobile crane incorporating a boom or jib that cannot be slewed and includes:
- an articulated mobile crane
- a locomotive crane.
A vehicle tow truck is not considered to be a non-slewing mobile crane.
A mobile crane can be set up in a range of locations and environmental conditions. Some mobile cranes, for example a non-slewing mobile crane, can also carry a load while moving (known as mobiling).
For further information see our Guide to mobile cranes.
Using other powered mobile plant as a crane
Powered mobile plant may be used to lift, lower and transport freely suspended loads—that is the load is not pinned to the boom or on tynes but is suspended by slings or chains from a purpose designed lifting point, jib attachment or quick‑hitch.
- Powered mobile plant used in this way includes forklifts and earthmoving machinery like backhoes, front-end loaders and excavators.
These types of powered mobile plant do not generally provide the same level of safety found in common types of cranes for precision lifting and placement.
Using powered mobile plant as a crane for construction work is classified as high risk construction work and a SWMS must be prepared before the work starts.
For further information see our Using other powered mobile plant as a crane information sheet.
Quick hitches for earthmoving machinery
A quick-hitch is a device that is fitted to an excavator or backhoe arm to quickly mount or dismount attachments. They are also known as ‘quick couplers’.
There are a number of different types of quick-hitches including half-hitch, mechanical, semi-automatic and automatic.
Quick hitches should have two mechanisms to engage the attachment—a primary retaining system and a backup safety system.
For further information see our Quick hitches for earth moving machinery information sheet.
SWA is not a regulator and does not provide training, issue, replace or renew licences. We cannot advise you about crane compliance. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.