Crane Operators

Summary

Crane operators are at the height of hierarchy in the heavy equipment operation world. Operating a construction or loading crane is a high skill requiring years of training and experience to be safe and proficient.

Most crane operators are well paid. They have huge responsibilities in handling valuable materials as well as protecting their expensive machinery. Crane operation can be a dangerous job, and one of the historic dangers was asbestos exposure.

Crane Operator Roles and Responsibilities

Crane operator roles cover a wide spectrum of jobs and worksites. Their main responsibility is moving heavy material. Cranes come in all sizes and power ranges. Small, mobile cranes are used for light duties in cramped spaces while the giants are usually fixed in one spot and continuously hoist heavy loads.

These are the common hoisting machines commonly called cranes:

  • Mobile cranes are maneuverable and mounted on tracks or rubber tires. Often, they’re highway legal and roam from site to site. The operators sit in a cab at ground level and control extension booms with drop cables.
  • Overhead cranes are mounted above a fixed worksite. They usually run on tracks and rails covering a large area. Most operators are positioned at low levels and use remote controls. They’re often permanently mounted at facilities like shipyards and loading docks.
  • Tower cranes are the ones seen at large construction sites. They swivel 360-degrees and have a cable and hook hoisting apparatus traveling along a boom that’s balanced by a counterweight. Tower cranes are erected at the beginning of a construction project and taken down at completion.

Crane operators are found at almost every large worksite. Sometimes they’re temporary and only present for a day or two. Other operators spend a good deal of their career at one location where they have long-term exposure to every jobsite condition.

These are a few sites where cranes are present:

  • Commercial and industrial construction sites
  • Large demolition and renovation workplaces
  • Shipyards and refitting dockyards
  • Steel and iron mills
  • Highway and bridge construction works
  • Railroad, marine and air transportation projects
  • Mines, sawmills and forestry sites
  • Power generation places

Asbestos Exposure in Crane Operators

MJN Brief

Many crane operators were at high-risk for asbestos exposure. Asbestos was an extremely common building material from the 1920s to the 1980s. Crane operators were prime candidates for inhaling and ingesting asbestos dust that was prominent on so many worksites. These exposed operators spent their entire day for months or years on end handling materials containing asbestos. They also worked in environments where other workers installed asbestos products. That dusty residue found its way to crane operators.

When asbestos is solid and protected, it’s not particularly dangerous. But when asbestos is being installed by cutting or tearing, it becomes highly hazardous. Fine particles are dislodged and go airborne. This puts microscopic asbestos fibers prevalent throughout the air, finding their way into workers’ respiratory and digestive systems.

Demolition sites were just as dangerous for asbestos exposure. Practically every commercial building built in the early and mid-twentieth century used tons of asbestos materials. Asbestos was considered the perfect insulator and fire protector. When crane operators worked at demolition sites using big wrecking balls, they filled the air with asbestos dust.

Jobsite material conditions weren’t the only asbestos source threatening crane operators. Many parts of their machinery contained asbestos materials. Brakes in wheels and hoisting apparatus employed asbestos to control friction heat. Engine compartments were lined with asbestos to control sound, temperature and fire potential. Every time an operator serviced their machine or checked the brakes, they were at high-risk for asbestos contamination.

Most crane operators worked in open cabs or at least at control areas exposed to the elements. Few cabs in early cranes were air-conditioned or had air filtration systems. It didn’t matter if a crane operator was at ground level or perched high in the air, they breathed in or swallowed airborne asbestos fibers. Tragically, most crane operators of that era had no warning that asbestos exposure was so dangerous.

Crane Operators and Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is the deadly cancer caused by asbestos fiber exposure. When crane operators and other exposed workers inhaled or ingested air contaminated with asbestos, the microscopic and invisible fibers attached themselves to the lung lining called the pleura or the abdominal lining called the peritoneum. These tiny particles were impossible to expel and remained embedded in the lungs or abdomen for decades. Then, without warning, cancerous tumors formed and presented the fatal condition known as mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Compensation for Crane Operators

If you operated a crane when asbestos use was in its hey-day, you’re a prime candidate for developing mesothelioma. There’s no known cure for advanced mesothelioma, but you may be eligible for compensation covering medical expenses and lost income. You may also file a lawsuit against a negligent asbestos product supplier to cover personal injury and ask for a punitive award. This also may apply to families helping ill relatives or considering a wrongful death suit.