Overhead cranes can help make material handling operations much safer than other methods of lifting heavy objects. They can alleviate the need for manual lifting, which can protect workers from strains and lift-related injuries. They can also replace other types of lifting equipment, such as forklifts, that aren’t specifically designed for material handling.
Overhead cranes can improve safety and efficiency in many applications, but when operators misuse them, they can also become a serious safety hazard. One of the most dangerous ways to misuse an overhead crane is to side load the hoist. Side loading can quickly cause a routine lift to become dangerous to operators, bystanders, and equipment.
Side loading can happen in a few different ways. Side loading occurs whenever the center of gravity of a load is not located directly under the crane hoist. This condition can happen if an operator attempts to lift a load that is not properly centered or if a hoist applies a horizontal force to a load that is not already suspended.
One obvious danger of side loading is that the load can swing once it is raised off the ground. A swinging load can cause serious damage to surrounding equipment and possibly the crane’s support structure, depending on the location. More importantly, a swinging load could severely injure any personnel standing nearby.
Side loading can also force the hoist’s chain or wire rope out of position, which can damage the internal mechanisms of the hoist. A damaged hoist can require expensive repairs and result in a loss of operational time. Again, equipment and personnel can be put at serious risk of damage or injury.
Side loading can cause other damage to the hoist as well. The hoist trolley could tip and possibly come off the rail. Side loading will also put inappropriate stress on the support structure, which could cause it to bend. Both of these scenarios can cause extensive damage to equipment and put personnel at risk. Additionally, side loading is not considered normal operation, and it can void the manufacturer’s warranty, making the operator fully responsible for any resulting damages.
There are steps that can be taken to prevent accidental and intentional side loading. The first step is to have new overhead lifting equipment designed and installed by qualified professionals. If you already have material handling systems in place, a qualified professional can review the systems to make sure that they can provide the required coverage without side loading.
Providing operational training is also crucial to ensuring that operators use all cranes correctly. All crane operators, as well as managers, supervisors, and anyone who might oversee lifting operations, must be aware of the dangers of side loading and know how to prevent it. Everyone involved in a lift can then ensure that side loading does not occur during the lift.
There is also equipment available that can be used to help operators avoid situations that might result in side loading. A lifting beam counterweight system can be used to shift the center of gravity of a load that is outside the coverage area of a given crane. The counterweight system can bring the center of gravity into the coverage area to eliminate the risk of side loading. Some crane systems, like Spanco T-Series Gantry Cranes, have built-in counterweight features available to make avoiding side loading easy.
Another way to eliminate side loading risks is with specialized crane systems, such as Spanco Workstation Bridge Cranes with available telescoping bridges. Telescoping Bridges provide extended crane reach to allow operators to work outside the crane’s supports, where a typical bridge would end. Operators can use the telescoping feature to pick up and place loads outside a workstation or to move loads between neighboring workstations easily.
There are some risks that come with moving heavy materials with overhead cranes, and precautions must be taken to protect personnel and equipment. Side loading an overhead crane system increases that risk by using the equipment in an unsafe manner. Overhead lifting operators and supervisors should take every necessary step to avoid any instance of side loading on any crane.