New OSHA requirements calling for the certification of all crane operators by 2014 provide good cause for every sign company to revisit its safety practices and procedures when using trucks and cranes for sign installation or removal.
"The sign industry has a unique set of safety needs due to the urban nature of their work," notes David Phillips, international sales and communications manager for Elliott Equipment. "Sign companies are more likely to be operating near power lines, roadways, pedestrian pathways, and obstacles in small team settings with limited supervision."
The OSHA rule, which began phase-in in November 2010, stipulates that operators of cranes with a hoist or lift capacity rated 2,000 pounds or more receive OSHA-approved training and pass a written certification exam by November 2014. The goal is to reduce potential injuries and ensure the safety of operators and those working around this equipment.
Training is Key
According to Mike McClure, service manager for full-service Arrow Sign Company in Oakland, California, proper planning is really the key to safe installations or removals that require a truck, boom, or crane. "You've got to know what you have to achieve, then match [the] equipment to the job and put together your plan," he says.
"When it comes to safety, there's no room for compromise," adds Gary Johnson, owner of full-service Signcrafters/GK&M in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "You need to be aware of what each installation requires and how it could affect your installers and the public in that area."
McClure and Johnson speak from decades of experience with truck and crane installations. Arrow Sign even maintains a division specializing in crane services. Its full fleet of mobile installation/removal equipment (ranging from a 50-foot boom truck to a 166-foot crane) can handle any job.
"When a customer calls, the first thing we ask is, 'What is the weight that needs to be lifted, how high up is it going, and how far do we have to reach?" says McClure. "When we know all that, we can determine the right truck for the job."
Different trucks call for different safety measures. "When you're talking a thirty-five-foot bucket on a one-ton truck, you're working with lightweight stuff and can get by with yellow caution tape to make sure the area directly underneath is clear," says Johnson. "But when you're using a crane, you're talking about a significantly larger area—the whole length of that crane— and the precautions you have to take are that much more significant.
"You're totally responsible for everyone around you in that work area."
Ensuring safety on large projects can also require a site survey to evaluate the access, the sign to be lifted/removed, and potential obstacles (such as trees and power lines).
But site surveys aren't always practical. "An installation crew might do two or three jobs on the typical day, so you can't always visit a site on smaller jobs to plan ahead," says Johnson. "Safety really falls back to training and the example you set (as an owner or crew chief).
"It has to be part of your routine."
Local Requirements Vary
Depending on location (and if the installation could disrupt traffic flow), permits or coordination with local police or municipal services may be required. "In some places, you can set up in the street and put up cones to alert traffic," notes McClure. "But if we tried something like that in San Francisco, the police would be on the site within ten minutes, and we'd be facing a fine."
Johnson cites standard procedures as examples for a safer working environment. "Cones should be three feet apart," he says. "If they're six feet apart, there's always some driver who'll drive through them.
"And when you're closing off a work area with caution tape, you want to use double rolls of tape. If there's only one, somebody will come along and think its OK to walk under it."
According to Bill Dundas, director of technical and regulatory affairs at the International Sign Association (ISA), the insights into best practices gained through years of experience with equipment and its capabilities are foundations for every safe installation or removal. "There are basic practices, and they begin with matching the equipment to the requirements of the job," he reiterates. "Rigging practices are extremely important, and the operator has to know the proper way to avoid contact with power lines and have outriggers properly positioned."
While general safety guidelines always apply, Dundas stresses the importance of taking a case-by-case approach to each job. "Every project a sign installer does is a little different," he says. "Safety always depends on where you're doing the installation, the buildings in the area, and what's going on around them."
The ISA's commitment to promote safety includes developing new programs to make members aware of safety issues and best practices. "We're drawing on the knowledge of our members, based on their experiences and the different types of projects they've done," says Dundas.
Results can be accessed in an online course devoted to safety. "It's part of the online school we're developing, which will be accessible anywhere/anytime," says ISA Director of Education Matthew Rumbaugh. "It covers everything—from identifying risks to safe operation of equipment to such basics as how to make sure a truck is properly braked."
The ISA has also joined with the National Commission for Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) to provide members with OSHA-approved training to meet requirements for the crane operator certification. "Our program is tailored to the needs of members and to get them the training they need to then take the exam," says Rumbaugh.
Suppliers of trucks, booms, and cranes also do their part to promote safety—some required, some on their own initiative. "A lot of cranes and boom trucks have safety features and limit switches with alarms built into the equipment," notes McClure. "They provide us with all the information on gross weight limits and safe operation of the equipment."
Phillips says it's important to respond to these alarms and warning features. "Every product is designed to have built-in features like deadman foot switches, overload protection devices, and other accessories that prevent operator error," he says.
Darrell Wilkerson Jr., vice president of Wilkie Manufacturing, reports, "When customers pick up a new or used Wilkie, we spend as much time with them as they feel they need." (Note: The amount of training depends on the operator's experience and skill level.)
Wilkerson considers an experienced operator to be the best resource for guidance on safe sign installation and removal. "There are certain variables that seem to be constantly changing, such as wind, location, power line locations, landscaping, and sign regulations," he says. "It takes someone with training and experience to be able to factor in all the variables and perform a safe and efficient lift."
Phillips says many accidents can be avoided with some common sense practices: reading and adhering to operation/safety manuals, viewing safety videos, and attending training classes. "Ultimately responsibility for safe practices rest solely on the operator, but [we] make a strong effort to train, educate, and protect our customers on the job site."
It's Up to You
In the end, it's up to service vehicle operators to make safety a priority and to take advantage of all the resources put forward by sign industry leaders, vendors, and trade groups.
"Safety should always be the number-one consideration," says Johnson. "The good journeyman or the good, experienced sign installer is going to pass along the right way you bolt signs to the wall but also stories of why guys have been hurt and what can be done to avoid those situations."
By Mike Antoniak
Photos courtesy of Elliott Equipment & Dave Forrest.