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March 3-7, 2026

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Crane safety: Protecting up and down the hook



Everyone is at risk when crane safety fails. Your workers are on the front line where injuries (and sometimes fatalities) can happen. Pedestrians in more populated areas are susceptible to injury. Your equipment is at risk and so is your business. How do you respond to accidents or work to prevent them when everything is on the line? 

Crane operators 

Crane operators are often the very first people to be held responsible for accidents – and operators certainly can be held responsible – but there are also people “below the hook” who had to do a lot of work before the operator even clocked in for their shift. 

During his CONEXPO-CON/AGG education session, Hank Dutton said, “Crane loss can affect workers’ comp, general liability, contractor equipment coverage and excess coverage.” Dutton is a crane and rigging specialist with Travelers Insurance and a member of several CCO committees, so he has seen first-hand what kinds of accidents insurers most commonly see. 

Investigate near misses 

Once an accident occurs, we start investigating what problems led to the incident. However, near misses are often overlooked. Overloading a crane may not have caused a failure, but it is still pushing the equipment past its intended use. It is crucial to investigate why the equipment was used in this way and who oversaw operating, loading and managing. Doing so will allow you to course correct and potentially prevent future incidents. Dutton said 50% of crane accidents come from setup problems. Overloads and poor maintenance are other common issues. 

Because issues and accidents with cranes affect so many aspects of the situation, more people than only the operator can be responsible. So, how do we prevent accidents, learn from the ones we can’t prevent and understand who is responsible? 

Managing crane operations 

Licensed and certified workers are only one aspect of maintaining safe crane operations. Look to your contracts – do you have an indemnification clause? What are the coverage requirements or limits from insurance? Did both parties actually sign the contract? Where exactly are your contracts located? The best approach is to assign someone in the legal department with the specific task of managing contracts. Someone in your business should review the information in the contracts, make sure everyone has signed and know where the contracts are physically located. The last thing you want is to be dealing with the aftermath of an accident and no one knows where the contract is – or you have the contract, but not every party has signed it. 

Organize your crane management program 

Licensing and certifications require training, but who manages your licensed workers? Are they familiar with proper standards and requirements? To establish a solid management program, your supervisors and managers need training, too. This comes in the form of a written program followed by training, regular assessments and assigning accountability. 

Safety operations and management must start from the top down. Dutton explained it like pushing a rope. It is much easier and effective to drop a rope down than to try and push it up. When everyone knows their standards and expectations, you begin to spot incidents that could lead to accidents. 

Prioritize risk management 

Compliance is important, but it doesn’t necessarily result in fewer accidents. Risk management is how you can proactively protect your workers, equipment and business. Compliance cannot drive out loss, but risk management can. When your management and supervisors are trained as effectively as your operators, you are being proactive vs. reactive. 

Hank Dutton’s full session “Crane Accident Prevention and Management - Why Do Crane Accidents Happen? And How Do You Manage This?” and all others from CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023 are available on demand. Click here to explore all education sessions at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023 in one place.

Photo credit: Storyblocks

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