CCC, Mammoet and LEEA on heavy lifting safety
Representatives from CCC, Mammoet and LEEA discus the gaps in the heavy lifting safety culture in the Middle East, where the room is for improvement, and what contractors need to do to get there
Over the course of an energetic day of talks at the Conrad Dubai, professionals from across the heavy lifting business in the Gulf gathered to attend the Cranes and Transport Middle East (CATME) conference in December — the first event of its kind, hosted by the KHL Group and Cranes International magazine.
Perhaps the most topical of the panel discussions that took place revolved around the lack of proper safety culture in the region — a topic that had already been broached earlier in the day by Maher Kabbani, manager of the heavy lift department at the Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC).
Kicking off the panel and taking over from where his superior left off, Suresh Kumar, senior inspection engineer at CCC, declares: “The safety culture that we see in the Middle East is average — from an inspection point of view the safety is very high for super heavy or critical lifts, but when we come down the safety is not so considered.
“It’s about the commitment of the people involved. Repeated actions, like the offloading of rebar from a trailer, need to be informed. This is where accidents happen. The standards are there, the procedure is there, but the level of compliance varies depending on the type of lifting operations.”
Thomas August, the regional safety, health, environment and quality (SHE-Q) manager for Mammoet Middle East, says: “If you’re working with the big, multinational companies, the safety culture is very high — there are lots of rules to follow, lots of procedures even to get your people through the front gate. But when you come away from these blue-chip companies the standards start dropping and dropping very quickly.”
While big lifts are typically safe, explained August, with lots of checks and balances, on small construction sites it is the crane driver who is doing the planning, even though they may or may not be trained to do planning.
Standards are currently high in the oil and gas industry, but in construction, the people doing these activities will not be trained August notes: “There will be a supervisor looking after 10 guys, and the supervisor may be trained, or he might just have worked for the company for 10 years.”
He adds that while anybody can lift up some rebar, the complacency of leaving unskilled workers to do unplanned work is precisely where the problem lies.
He adds: “It is getting better, and a lot of companies are getting better in the training and planning of these activities.”
Also on the panel is Geoff Holden, CEO of the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), which has 300 members around the Gulf and 1,000 worldwide.
He points to the problem of budgets in the industry, and the demands that clients are placing on lifting contractors.
Holden: “What recently had a member who was asked to reduce the contract price by 30% — now, there are limits to how much you can take out — so 30% mean less people, but they’ve still got the same amount of work to do. They might want to do the work properly, and be trained to do it, but if you put people under too much pressure they make mistakes. That leads to accidents, and at the end of the day, accidents are far more expensive, because of all the disruption.”
Just say no
One solution that some lift contractor in the region are adopting is a policy that allows their people on the ground to halt operations if they believe that there is a safety problem.
August says: “We give all of our operators the right to say no if they believe there is a safety issue, and I’d like to say that, in most cases, they do. The problem is when the client starts to pressure the operator because he disagrees and then there’s a lot of pressure being exerted on that person by the client — to the extent that one of our clients has said you can’t work that policy with us.”
CCC has a safety that encourages similar behaviour from its operators. Kumar notes: “At CCC, we give the responsibility to the operators, as well as the right to say no if they see a condition which is very unsafe.
“We also train them internally and give them refresher courses on what they should see and how they should not submit to pressures from the client side.”
These courses include lessons on reading load charts: radius, boom length and angle, and so on in the workers’ own languages.
However, Kumar adds, given that CCC uses cranes that vary from 8t to 1,600t, there are practical limitations on training, but the contractor works hard to balance the cost aspect with the requirements.
At Mammoet, August adds: “One of the problems that we do have is operators manuals: English, French, German, Spanish you’ll get; Hindi may be a little bit more difficult — so we’ve brought in English language training for our operators.”
August also highlights the need for generic plans for certain categories of lift, so that every lift, even basic rebar lifting work, ultimately sticks to an informed procedure.
He adds that one of the key risks on site is the operators on site disregarding the rules. He recalls a client who limitations with one particular crane to 75% of the load charts, but in practice, had to confiscate the bypass key from the operators, because they were routinely pushing the crane beyond 90%.
Planning, training and assessment thus emerged as the three main issues. The worst thing you can hear, Holden adds, is the phrase: “I’ve been doing this for 20 years…”, because LEEA found in an Abu Dhabi trial that those people were actually the worst performers, and that those who have been recently trained were in fact far better.