Overhead rig safety is something few people outside the construction industry ever think about–that is, until tragedy strikes. While rare, crane accidents do happen and when they do, the results are often fatal. In February 2016, a construction crane toppled over while being lowered by a crew working on a busy street in Lower Manhattan during morning rush hour. In this case, the crane collapse left one Wall Street worker dead and three others injured by flying debris. The relatively low number of lives lost and impacted by the crane’s collapse was considered nothing short of a miracle. In many other cases, crane collapses result in a much higher loss of life and injury. Fortunately, with the right training, most crane accidents, such as the one described above, can be averted.

Look Up! Overhead Rig Safety

Electrical Hazards

The OSHA estimates that close to 50% of overhead crane accidents result from machinery coming into contact with power lines during operation (e.g., any metal part of a crane coming into contact with a high-voltage power line). If this happens, any worker touching the crane is electrocuted. Both the crane operator and other workers can be impacted by the contact and as such. A single contact with a power line can result in multiple fatalities. An estimated 200 workers die each year from cranes contacting power lines. For this reason, it is critical for crane operators and other site officials to plan ahead. (e.g., ensure the crane is located as far away from power lines as possible and ensure operators are fully briefed on all “danger zones” or places where contact may be possible). Notably, any area within 10-feet of a power line is considered unsafe in this context and these areas should be clearly marked off. If possible. It is highly recommended that operators’ use non-conductive, pneumatic or radio remote control system to operate their crane—these systems are safer since if contact occurs, the operator will not be immediately electrocuted. For more, also see the OHSA’s guidelines on working near energized parts with a crane.


A majority of crane accidents result from overloading. Indeed, the OSHA reports that overloading accounts for 80% of all crane upsets. When a crane is overloaded structural stress, swinging and load dropping are common. Since human error is the major cause of overloading, however, training can and does make a major difference.

While inexperienced and poorly trained operators may think they can intuitively determine what loads are viable, it is just such guessing that leads to tragedies.

While certification standards vary depending on the load capacity of the equipment in use, by law, employers must provide formal training for all crane operators. For this reason, anyone with a crane operator on their crew must ensure that their operations have at the very least been trained. On the following topics: switches, rated loads, overhead safety and crane instruments and components.

Materials Falling

When it comes to crane operation, another major source of fatalities and injuries is falling materials. Again, when materials fall, the result is often fatal, but in most cases, falling materials are the result of poorly trained workers. In this case, both crane operators and other staff (those securing slings and attachments) are typically to blame.

While performing regular maintenance on hoists is one way to prevent falling material. (Notably, the OSHA recommends daily inspections of equipment), training is also key. Workers who are responsible for working with cranes should be taught how to properly secure loads and identify unstable loads. Additionally, other workers should be trained to avoid walking underneath loads.

In addition, wearing proper safety equipment is critical. Finally, operators should ensure they avoid moving loads over workers and moving loads too quickly.  Most accidents and deaths associated with materials falling from cranes can be prevented with the appropriate training and precautions.

To scale up rig safety training for crane operators and other employees on your crew, see eLeap’s video course, Overhead: Rigging Safety.

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