According to a study published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Center for Construction Research and Training reports that side pulling is one of the 13 most common ways people are killed or injured while using cranes. But what is side pulling and why is it so dangerous?
OSHA defines side pull as “the hoist pull acting horizontally when the hoist lines are not operated vertically” in their report on overhead and gantry cranes, which you can read here. In other words, the crane is used to “tow” a load that is not lined up properly to get it into position. Side pulling purposely is extremely dangerous unless the crane is stable and the load is small. In the vast majority of cases, side pulls should not be used, even if the process could save some time. Using a crane to move even a small load horizontally can be fatal. If you are going to operate a crane while on the job, it is important to understand how to use one properly, and if you are an employer who owns cranes, it is crucial that you provide on the job training for your employees, not just to teach about side pull, but also to help them understand all aspects of crane safety.
The dangers of side pulling are clearly defined by the Hoist Manufactures Institute and the Crane Manufacturers Association of America (read more here). In short, cranes are only intended to mover loads straight up and straight down. Side pull especially puts stress on the rope. When you’re moving an item horizontally, the wire can jump out of the grooves holding it in place, causing it to tear or tangle. A damaged rope system isn’t always apparent right away, and when hoisting future loads, the wire could snap, causing the load to fall. Everyone on the ground is in danger, and a quick break could cause the crane to become unbalanced and tip.
Even if the rope does not break, with a side-pull the potential for becoming unbalanced is high. Even when a load is well under the total safe capacity, side pulling could cause excess stress on the crane due to the angles. Cranes aren’t built to deal with side pulling, so even if you have a LMI system that indicated when a load is too heavy, it may not alert to an imbalance due to side pulling. If you pull and item incorrectly, the crane’s bridge beam will be unprepared for the stress, which could cause it to fail. Against, this puts not just the crane operator in danger, but it also puts anyone on the ground in danger. Side pull accidents can cause loads to fall far distances from the crane, so even workers who think they are a safe distance from the crane could be at risk.
The best course of action, if you know you will be operating a crane, is to avoid side pull completely, even if you think it will save you time and even if the load looks very small in comparison to the maximum load capacity. Make sure you are trained on crane safety to help you avoid on the job injuries, and if you are hurt while working, make sure you talk to a crane accident lawyer about your rights.