“I’ve got eyes in the back of my head.” It’s a well-known phrase and its utterance likely saved more than a few people from juvenile trouble. In reality though, having eyes in the back of your head – or anywhere else where you can’t easily see – can prevent real trouble, especially when it comes to crane and rigging operations.
The key to safety and efficiency on a jobsite where cranes are working is being fully aware of one’s surroundings. Situational awareness for crane operators involves interpreting information, actions and events that can have a direct impact on the operating environment. For general contractors or construction owners, having full visual access to a job site provides critical information to make important decisions that involve time, money and safety.
Understandably, cameras have the power to improve load placement during blind lifts and distant lifts, but they also can play a significant role in rigging safety. One of the most exciting benefits of using a camera on the hook block, such as HoistCam, is the ability to verify that the load is properly rigged before lifting and to verify that slings have been removed from the hook block after landing the load before hoisting up and moving onto the next pick. Providing the operator with direct line of site to the load improves communication with riggers and signal persons.
At Netarus, engineers have been working to develop a program that stores data from camera systems and seamlessly converts it into actionable plans for a business. This expands the usefulness of camera systems beyond real-time crane applications to a broader site operation and business tool. System analytics can be customized and automated for project superintendents to managers, even CEOs.
Choosing a camera
There is no shortage of camera options for construction equipment and choices are often dependent on the type of crane and the job site on which the camera is needed. The size of the equipment is one factor to consider when choosing the most appropriate camera. For smaller equipment such as boom trucks and rough-terrain cranes, a simple and inexpensive wired backup camera can give the operator line-of-sight behind them especially when repositioning the crane. In addition, wireless hoist monitoring cameras allow the operator to see load placement when positioning a load in a hole or on the roof of a building.
On larger equipment such as all-terrain cranes, luffing boom crawlers or tower cranes, a simple wired winch camera can give the operator a view of the drum to make sure hoist lines are spooling correctly. In addition, a wireless camera mounted on the trolley or boom tip of these cranes can be very beneficial. These wireless systems provide the operator with ability to see the load and personnel around the load, especially in “blind pick” situations.
“Today’s high-rise construction has become a compromise of productivity versus safety,” said Tom Minx, a seasoned tower crane operator for Century Concrete, based in Virginia Beach, VA. “The price of purchase or rental of a camera system is immeasurable when considering the risk of death or injury due to miscommunication or the inability to visualize the load.”
Camera system choices often hinge on several factors. For instance, a wireless camera on the trolley or boom tip may be affected by the flexing of the boom, causing the video to shake. This could be a distraction, rather than a help, to the operator. An alternative is a camera mounted onto the hook block. Placing the camera on the hook block provides smooth movement of the camera. An added benefit is that there is virtually no need to adjust the view, as it is always positioned on the load.
“I freely admit I was quite skeptical of the movements of the tower crane being tracked on a video recorder,” said Minx, who has operated a tower crane equipped with a HoistCam. “Night operations, especially became absolutely vivid on the display when you cannot see the hook, block or load in a hidden area of the job site. As an operator working by two-way radio, the camera display within the cab of a tower crane is an added level of security.”
Drones are becoming increasingly popular in the construction market for capturing job site information and providing construction management and architects with critical site development and progress. Drones can be useful on jobs that cover a large square footage, such as civil engineering projects that might involve many roads and bridges. However, drones are not without challenges. New laws require licenses for commercial use, plus they have limited flight time and limited ability to record data. No-fly areas may also limit drone access to construction projects, and in high-rise or city-based job sites, obstructions may pose problems for drone flight.
Quick and substantial ROI
The return on investment (ROI) when using camera systems can be substantial. Lifting productivity and efficiency is multiplied in repetitive, high-frequency lifting scenarios such as unloading of vessels or relocating materials from one location to another. In maritime logistics operations, HoistCam had a customer install a camera system for conducting blind lifts inside the hull of a cargo ship. The company reported a 60 percent improvement in efficiency and 90 percent improvement in safety. The avoidance of any damage to personnel or equipment was significant and almost immediately proved a successful ROI for the company.
On larger construction sites, the tower crane often dictates the movement of materials being lifted and placed. The view from the hook block can provide broader safety and logistical benefits than just those related to crane operations. Video that can be viewed remotely improves logistics and safety for the entire job site by providing a supervisor back at the office the ability to quickly replay or monitor what is transpiring on site. When initially established, unmanned camera systems were a way to provide visual confirmation for operators. The advent of software and analytical systems are demonstrating how companies can harness the collective capacity to not only provide a visual monitor of the lifting operations, but run a business or site operation safely and more efficiently. Customers will increasingly be looking to use unmanned camera assist systems, complete with remote monitoring and analytics, to integrate with other critical programs, such as occupational safety monitoring, tracking man hours, or creating “As Build” programs.
“It only takes the prevention of one incident for a system to pay for itself,” said Chris Gould, owner of Gould Technical Service, LLC, based in Winston, GA. Gould is a crane inspector with more than 12 years of experience. Camera systems are another tool to aid operators, said Gould, who also sees the opportunities for the devices as a training tool and a site management tool.
“Before a worker steps on to the project, he or she can be shown, in real time or from a recording, what they will be doing and the proper practices to do it safely,” Gould said. “I’ve seen injuries and loss of friends which could have been prevented.”
Insurance companies are taking notice of the safety benefits associated crane camera systems and are seeing full-scale remote monitoring as a risk management tool. With advancements in camera sensitivity, it is possible to keep eyes on a job site to quickly and remotely identify important safety practices and even prevent unsafe activity from causing harm. The ability to capture, evaluate and share data in near real time is increasingly becoming a better way to do business.
In the event of an accident, recordings can assist investigation, which can be just as costly as the settlement, especially when dealing purely with circumstantial evidence and eyewitness accounts. Just as a flight data recorder on a plane can provide evidence of an incident with an airplane, cameras strategically positioned on a crane can provide an unbiased perspective. This information is also useful to understanding the accident and preventing future ones.
Like any new technology, there is education and understanding that comes with the use of camera systems. More than just a real-time visual aid, camera systems combined with analytical software tools, broaden the safety, productivity, and risk management capabilities for crane users and contractors.