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Six steps to safer overhead lifting

By Geoff Holden, Chief Executive, LEEA (Lifting Equipment Engineers Association)

With a history that stretches back to the building of the Pyramids, overhead lifting has long played a key role in a wide range of industries – including the subsea and offshore sectors. For the most part, the equipment involved is familiar and, in many cases, relatively straightforward. However, despite (or perhaps because of) this high level of familiarity and ubiquity, lifting remains a common cause of accidents. And given the typically tough working environments involved, it is not surprising that the risks are often greater in subsea and offshore applications. For employers, the good news is that implementing a safe and legal lifting programme is not usually an unduly complex process. Furthermore, practical guidance and support is readily available. As a starting point, here are six useful tips for safer lifting, along with some of the most common errors and oversights.

1. Get to grips with LOLER

Anyone with responsibility for lifting in the UK should of course be familiar with LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations), as well as the broader demands of PUWER (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations) and the Health and Safety at Work Act. Introduced in the UK in 1998, LOLER takes a modern, risk-based approach, and emphasises the need to use competent staff for all aspects of lifting operations. However, it is not unduly prescriptive, giving employers flexibility to tailor their approach to suit individual circumstances.

LOLER is generally regarded as a sensible piece of legislation. Reflecting this, over recent years an ever-increasing number of companies operating outside the UK, particularly in regions that lack lifting-specific regulations, have chosen to adopt LOLER as best practice.

2. Plan properly

Inadequate planning is the root cause of most lifting-related accidents. Often this is reflected in last minute attempts to deal with an unexpected or awkward load, compounded by the use of untrained and/or poorly supervised staff.

Nearly all such incidents could be avoided by the implementation of effective planning procedures. Naturally the extent of such planning should reflect the complexity of the lifting operation in question. A complex operation, for example, might be characterised by a dangerous or abnornmal load, the need to perform the lift in unusual circumstances or difficult conditions, and/or involve the use of more than one piece of lifting equipment. In such cases, a written plan is generally essential.

Even when the lift is routine, planning should always include processes such as a careful assessment of the load and the route it will take, selection of appropriate equipment, and a trial lift. With the load lifted to a nominal height, its balance, stability and security can be assessed prior to the lifting operation proper.

For certain applications it is well worth considering the benefits of special-purpose equipment. Similarly, many potential problems can be avoided by simply ensuring that the designer of the load in question incorporates a suitable lifting point or points.

3. Take ‘competence’ seriously

When organising staff training, employers should recognise that four distinct job functions are involved in a safe lift: planning, supervision, operation, and the thorough examination of the equipment. Whilst an individual may fill more than one of these roles, it is important that selection of candidates and training reflects the unique requirements of each one.

To assist in the identification of effective training courses for end users, LEEA runs an Accredited Training Scheme. To achieve accredited status, LEEA member companies must pass a rigorous audit, including criteria such as the qualifications and experience of trainers, the standard of training facilities, and the quality of student assessment.

Particular attention should be paid to LOLER’s requirement that lifting equipment is subject to periodic thorough examination by a competent person. Above all else, employers should appreciate that thorough examination is a specialist task requiring specialist skills. LEEA’s Diploma is long-established as the industry-recognized qualification in this field. Furthermore, to help employers ensure that only genuinely competent staff take on the job of thorough examination, LEEA issues ‘TEAM’ identification cards to employees of member companies that hold the Diploma qualification.

4. Don’t overlook small or simple items

LOLER demands that all lifting equipment is subject to periodic thorough examination. Typically this includes a wide range of relatively simple and straightforward products such as shackles and eyebolts. In practice, is it all too easy to overlook such items. However, they invariably play a safety-critical role – securing the load throughout the lift. What’s more, they are subject to damage and wear and tear each and every time they are used. Employers should therefore ensure that they are properly specified in the first place, and not neglected when it comes to periodic thorough examination.

5. Take into account the conditions

Anyone working in the subsea and offshore sectors will appreciate the impact that hostile operating conditions can have on a wide range of procedures. Lifting is no exception. Factors including the combination of salt water and air, extremes of temperature, and the additional dynamic loads imposed by the movement of vessels and/or installations can all have a detrimental effect on the integrity of lifting equipment. Reflecting this, LEEA produces a dedicated guide on the use of hand chain blocks and lever hoists offshore. Key recommendations include using equipment specifically designed for such conditions, and implementing a more frequent programme of thorough examinations.

6. Avoid over-reliance on thorough examination

Some employers rely too heavily on thorough examinations to ensure that lifting equipment remains safe to use. Depending on the type of equipment involved, LOLER generally requires that thorough examinations take place every six or twelve months. However, as already mentioned, lifting equipment is often vulnerable to damage. Indeed some of it can even deteriorate whilst in storage. That’s why it is important to ensure that lifting equipment is also subject to regular inspections in the periods between scheduled thorough examinations.

Generally these in-service inspections are relatively quick and simple procedures that can be done by the operator. However, it is vital that staff have the confidence and authority necessary to withdraw from service any equipment that gives cause for concern.

Clearly this is a far from comprehensive list, both in terms of the range of potential risks encountered and the detailed procedures needed to address them. However, for employers looking to ensure that they stay on the right side of the law and avoid the potentially catastrophic consequences of a lifting-related accident, help is usually within easy reach. This includes the official code of practice that accompanies LOLER, as well as LEEA’s own Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Lifting Equipment (COPSULE) and the aforementioned guide to safe use of hand chain blocks and lever hoists offshore. It should also be pointed out that, to achieve full membership of LEEA, companies must pass a wide-ranging technical audit conducted by the association’s officers. And they are subject to further audits as long as they remain members. As a result, full LEEA membership provides independent verification of a commitment to professionalism – a commitment that should be reflected in the quality of advice such companies can offer end users of lifting equipment and related services.

Further details on the work of LEEA, and a full list of members, is available at

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