A Comprehensive Guide to Crane Safety

Discover what crane safety is, some of the common safety hazards crane operators face, tips on practicing crane safety, and the requirements and certifications for safely operating a crane.

What is Crane Safety?

Crane safety refers to a set of practices that an organization follows to ensure that they reduce the risks and hazards associated with operating a crane. Cranes are a mainstay in modern construction sites and play a major role in lifting materials and equipment to build large buildings and structures.

The Occupational and Health Safety Administration (OSHA) defines a crane as a large family of construction machinery. OSHA defines cranes as construction machinery that’s used to hoist, lower, and move a suspended load. 

There is a lot of engineering that goes into the design and construction of a crane to ensure that it can move and lift these heavy loads safely. However, despite all the attention to detail, there are many inherent risks and hazards that come with operating a crane. This is why it’s crucial for construction sites to have a systematic approach to operating cranes safely to reduce the risk for operators and everyone else in the vicinity.

What are the Common Crane Safety Hazards?

Operating a crane requires a lot of technical knowledge and skill. However, regardless of how well-trained an operator is, some major hazards still come with operating a crane. Below are the three most common types of safety hazards that operators and construction workers face when operating a crane.

Falling Debris

One of the most common hazards of operating is the risk of falling materials. Cranes are designed to hoist materials high up, and regardless of how well-secured the materials are to the crane, there’s a risk of the materials falling, injuring the people below, or causing property damage.

Many things can cause materials to fall off a crane, such as visual impairment, mechanical failure, operator incompetency, and slipping, to name a few. Cranes are designed to hoist and lift heavy loads, so there are many potential hazards that may arise if the materials fall from the crane.

This is a major consideration for operators, contractors, employees, and site managers. This is why it’s crucial to practice proper crane maintenance and ensure that the crane is running smoothly. A good way to do this is through crane inspection checklists that operators and employees must go through before operating a crane.

Additionally, it’s important to properly train employees and crane operators. This means ensuring that operators understand the risks of operating a crane and make sure to put in extra effort to ensure that they are operating the crane properly, reducing the risk of falling materials. It’s also important to brief employees working in areas where there’s a crane to understand the hazards and risks to keep everyone prepared.


The majority of crane mechanical failures and upsets are caused by forcing the crane to carry a load that it’s not designed to carry. Overloaded cranes go through major structural stress that can severely damage the machine. A lot of the time, overloading can cause irreversible damage to a crane, which is why this is a major concern for many operators and site safety managers.

Many of the upsets and structural failures that are a result of overloading are caused by human error. This means that the most common cause of overloading is the workers forcing the crane to carry more than its maximum load, which can be very dangerous.

This is why it’s integral to properly train operators and ensure that they understand the crane’s maximum load and respect the load limits. While modern cranes are designed to lift much heavier loads than cranes of the past, they still have limits, which all operators need to be familiar with before operating one themselves.

Electrical Hazards

The most common electrical hazard for cranes is coming into contact with powerlines. Since cranes go high up, they are at a higher risk of coming into contact with a power line, which can cause significant damage and accidents.

Most of the time, when a crane comes into contact with a power line, the operator gets electrocuted. However, the operators aren’t the only persons at risk if a crane comes into contact with a powerline. 

Contact with a powerline can cause multiple people to get injured and may even be fatal. These instances can occur because of a lack of planning and safety procedures that specifically pertain to avoiding powerlines when operating a crane.

This is why avoiding electrical hazards, and powerlines need to be a part of the training for crane operators. Failure to understand the risks of touching a powerline with a crane can be fatal for operators and is something construction sites must try to avoid at all costs.

Crane Safety Tips

Different industries and organizations may have their own approach to crane safety. However, there are numerous OSHA and State standards that organizations need to comply with to ensure the safety of the operators and employees. There are general OSHA standards as well as specific standards for maritime, gear certification, and construction industries. The standards specifically address crane, derrick, and hoist safety standards.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) also issued a policy statement in 2019 with general safety guidelines for safe crane operation. These include tips on how to practice crane safety:

  • Requiring organizations to comply with OSHA and state regulations and standards
  • Encouraging local educational centers like colleges to offer crane safety courses
  • Identifying all elevated and ground-level hazards on site
  • Prioritizing public safety and protecting the public in crane operations
  • Ensuring that all operators and staff have undergone proper training
  • Inspecting equipment before use
  • Keeping loads as low to the ground as possible
  • Ensuring strict compliance with load limits

Crane safety is an organization-wide practice. Whenever there is a crane in operation, everyone on site should be knowledgeable on the guidelines for crane safety. Additionally, all the equipment needs to be inspected and in proper shape to reduce and eliminate any unnecessary risks.

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Crane Operator Certification Requirements

While crane operators required certification, prior to 2018, they did not need specific certification for different types of cranes. This means that a crane operator only needs to obtain one certificate and may be able to operate cranes with which they are unfamiliar.

This can result in accidents and many safety hazards that could have been avoidded with proper certification. In response to this, OSHA updated its crane operator certification requirements in December of 2018. These updated requirements meant that operators now had to obtain different certification for each type of crane.

It also requires employers to provider operators with proper and comprehensive training on their crane duties and always undergo training before operating new equipment. These updated OSHA requirements are in place to enhance safety for crane operators and reduce accidents.

FAQs About Crane Safety

For the United States and the European Union, the safety factor for rigging equipment must be between 4:1-7:1. For hoisting devices, it must be between 2:1 and 3:1.

There are numerous local and OSHA standards for crane safety that organizations must comply with when operating a crane. One of the ways organizations can check for crane safety compliance is through checklists that employees use during inspections.

A crane safety checklist is a list of things that operators must inspect before operating a crane. The checklist may also incluide certain practices that operators need to follow before, during, and after crane operation to reduce unwanted and unnecessary risk.

For existing cranes and hoisting systems, it’s important to perform load tests at least once every four years. When performing a load test, the load should be no less that 100% of the machine’s capacity and no more than 125%.

Leon Altomonte
Article by
Leon Altomonte
Leon Altomonte is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He got into content writing while taking up a language degree and has written copy for various web pages and blogs. Aside from working as a freelance writer, Leon is also a musician who spends most of his free time playing gigs and at the studio.