Crane safety: 'Black boxes' may be made compulsory

Wires used to lift loads should be greased to prevent corrosion - and not frayed, corroded or kinked. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Wires used to lift loads should be greased to prevent corrosion - and not frayed, corroded or kinked. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Deputy director Mohd Ismadi from MOM’s Occupational Safety and Health Division checking the hook of a crane during an inspection at a MacPherson Road site on Monday. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Deputy director Mohd Ismadi from MOM’s Occupational Safety and Health Division checking the hook of a crane during an inspection at a MacPherson Road site on Monday. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

"Black boxes" may be made compulsory for some cranes to improve safety in an industry that has been dogged by accidents.

A government pilot trial of black boxes, or data loggers which record a crane's movements, comes amid a spate of serious accidents and scores of crane safety breaches.

The use of these devices could prompt crane operators to take more care as they know their work is being monitored, said experts.

The devices could also be used to probe crane accidents, similar to the way aircraft black boxes are used.

The most recent crane tragedy here was the National Art Gallery tower crane collapse that killed two workers earlier this month.

And dangerous practices persist, with 61 firms from 90 sites inspected fined for crane safety lapses in recent Ministry of Manpower (MOM) surprise inspections.

The data loggers record information such as a crane's load and actions taken by the operator.

To encourage greater adoption of these devices, MOM started a pilot at three sites last month.

"MOM plans to complete the pilot trial some time at the end of the year and may consider making data loggers mandatory for certain cranes based on findings of the pilot trial," said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education Hawazi Daipi yesterday at the third annual Crane Safety Symposium.

Singapore Cranes Association vice-chairman Jimmy Chua backed the use of data loggers.

But he added that one stumbling block for firms is that the data logger software may not be compatible with all types of cranes.

Mr Hawazi also disclosed the findings of MOM's Operation Skylark, a series of crane inspections.

MOM inspected 90 construction and manufacturing sites from July 15 to Sept 30.

These sites either belonged to firms which had previous crane-related accidents, or a large number of cranes.

Across 67 sites, 189 lapses in crane safety were found.

The most common: failing to keep cranes in good working condition.

Inspectors found corroded ropes, damaged safety latches on crane hooks and faulty safety devices, despite the fact that cranes must be checked by authorised examiners every 12 months.

In total, 107 fines totalling $56,750 and 82 warnings were meted out.

Two sites were also ordered to stop work.

There were three crane-related deaths and 12 crane-related dangerous incidents this year.

With more construction in recent years, crane usage will inevitably grow, said Mr Hawazi.

But more is being done to improve safety and raise awareness.

The National Crane Safety Taskforce is doing a study on the causes of crawler crane accidents, to be released next year.

And the industry, too, is doing its part. The Singapore Contractors Association and Singapore Cranes Association are organising the first Crane Carnival on Nov 17, with a contest for crane lifting teams and hands-on stations for the public.

janiceh@sph.com.sg