Safety and planning must be embraced in 2021

By Will Dunn, CEO of Lifting Equipment Store, and President of Lifting Equipment Store USA.

The challenging circumstances created by COVID-19 have brought extreme pressure on offshore and onshore production and storage facilities to maintain top levels of safety and resilience.

As we face a new year and new changes for the better, we cannot let that focus slip as we return to our old ways.

After all, safety is inherent to oil and gas businesses remaining profitable, by ensuring that facilities remain reliable and production is as efficient as possible. Companies need to continually innovate and invest in new assets and approaches that enhance safety processes to protect their businesses.

Happy go lucky approach to lifting equipment

Of course, I am not telling you anything that you have not heard before. But I believe that safety can often be overlooked in certain areas, and I feel that is case when it comes to lifting and materials handling equipment. 

There is a tendency for people to assume that forklift trucks and other readily available lifting equipment can be put to use in any ad hoc way whenever needed; or that a facility’s range of lifting accessories can be made to fit whatever situation arises. This happy go lucky approach ignores the fact that the lifting operation may be the most dangerous aspect of your maintenance activity. All lifting operations should be planned accordingly.

Ask yourself this: how careful are you about how you treat your lifting and materials handling equipment? How confident are you that periodic inspections have been carried out correctly before every single use?

If the answer to the above question is anything other than 100%, then that’s not good enough, because there are safety-threatening and life-endangering consequences. Consider dangers such as hydrogen embrittlement (HE). A recent report by William Hackett revealed that HE recently led to the failure of G10 welded chain slings in a container fleet in Norway; and in the USA, a global oil company had to withdraw a number of lifting appliances and introduced an inspection regime before any future lift work was carried out.

If you don’t inspect, you may never realise that HE is affecting your equipment and you could end up using something that is dangerously damaged.

You should inspect work equipment if your risk assessment identifies any significant risk to operators and others from the equipment's installation or use. The result of the inspection should be recorded and this record should be kept at least until the next inspection of that equipment. 

And – I can’t stress this enough – work equipment that requires inspection should absolutely not be used, unless you know that an inspection has taken place. If it’s not your job to carry it out, it should be accompanied by physical evidence of the last inspection, such as an inspection report. Consider using such things as inspection tags, that will allow you to communicate that your product or equipment is in good working order, helping you to avoid accidents in the workplace that can be caused by using faulty equipment. 

Time and time again, there are two pieces of equipment that I see being overlooked and misused, with potentially dire consequences: slings and shackles. Despite being mere ‘accessories’ that connect the load to the crane, they’re critical components and often the ones subject to the most abuse.

Shackles can stretch and de-form if overloaded and can also be misused, for example by side loading, where the operator has loaded the shackle incorrectly, causing it to bend or break. If a proper inspection is not carried out, it might not be visible. Slings can also easily be overloaded, and while they are designed to stretch on grade 80 and above to avoid sudden snapping, this only goes so far. If a chain sling is catastrophically overloaded then snapping can still occur. 

It all comes down to planning

Ultimately it comes down to one word: planning. Even the smallest lifting operations require planning. There needs to be a pre-lift team talk, basic training where needed, and a plan of action for when things go wrong. By overlooking these points, you’re running the risk of accidents.

Maintenance work will often involve one-off lifts, or lifts that are only undertaken occasionally. Such lifts can be more dangerous because there is less familiarity with the load, or because the need for appropriate lifting and/or support equipment hasn't been properly considered in advance. For these reasons, lifting operations need to be explicitly planned in advance.

Here is are five questions that I would suggest asking yourself before every lift, no matter how small:

  • Is the lift being overseen by a competent person who has both practical and theoretical knowledge, and experience of planning lifts?
  • Is the lift appropriately supervised, proportionate to the risk and the competence of those involved?
  • Has a lifting plan been developed that considers the risks involved, the equipment needed, the procedures for the lift, and who has to do what?
  • Do you know the weight of the load? Is the load balanced? Do you know the integrity of the lifting points?
  • Can the lift be planned to avoid people working under the suspended load? Will temporary supports be needed?

What is the alternative?

To my mind, this is the only case for planning you need to hear: it will always be more cost effective to incorporate planning into your processes and costings, because when a piece of equipment breaks down after it hasn’t been used properly; or when you’ve been hit by a lawsuit from an injured employee – the cost of planning is going to seem very minor indeed.

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