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The need for a written plan

25 January 2013

When written and followed correctly, a lifting plan provides real control over the lifting operation and can reduce the risk of an accident. Geoff Holden, chief executive of the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEE

When written and followed correctly, a lifting plan provides real control over the lifting operation and can reduce the risk of an accident. Geoff Holden, chief executive of the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) explains

For all but the simplest, routine lifting operations, a written plan is essential.

In practice this means written plans are required for any lifting operation when a dangerous or unusual load is involved, the lift is performed in unusual circumstances or difficult environments, more than one lifting appliance is required, or when special lifting equipment is used. There's no doubt that over recent years written plans have become more commonplace. Unfortunately the content often falls short of good practice.

And frequently the plan sits in a file and is only referred to if something goes wrong - a waste because, correctly written and followed, it can reduce the risk of an accident.

To be effective, the plan should be available to all the key personnel involved. It should be easily understood and provide the level of detail that a suitably trained person will need to carry out the operation. The starting point should be a clear description of what the lifting operation is supposed to achieve. A risk assessment will also be required. Many sites have standard procedures which control the risks arising from the hazards that are a permanent feature of the location. The risk assessment for the lifting operation should focus on any additional hazards associated with the lifting operation, or any risk arising from the permanent hazards which will change as a result of it.

Next comes the method of carrying out the operation. Essentially it is the sequence of events, starting with any preparation work. In the context of mobile crane operations, access to the site, and its load bearing capability, are key considerations - as is the area available should the crane be of a size which requires transportation in sections. Large crane operations often involve smaller cranes and lorry loaders and these should not be overlooked. It goes without saying that the crane (and other equipment) must be suitable for the lifting operation. However, many accidents occur simply because the capacity of a crane was inadequate, or because a lack of space prevented outriggers from being fully deployed.

The load may need preparation before lifting starts. Although it may be better to treat the detail of such work as a separate operation, the need to do it should still be included as a stage in the plan. Similarly the route the load is to take may need preparation, along with the landing site. The load may need to be orientated either in the air or while lifting or lowering. The method of doing so, and when, should be in the plan.

Next the plan should list equipment and personnel involved. The equipment list should be as detailed as possible. The list of personnel is really a list of job functions.

Adequate supervision is essential, particularly if two or more operatives are involved. The method of communicating with a crane driver should also be included.

The plan should be checked by the person in overall charge of the lifting operation. If satisfactory it should be given a plan reference number, signed and dated. Plans often have to be made well in advance and based on certain assumptions. Anything likely to change therefore needs to be checked as and when the information is available. Any change required to the plan should go back to the appointed person for approval. To provide an audit trail, the change and date should be recorded.

The plan must be made available to everyone involved. It is good practice to have a 'tool box' talk just before the operation commences, ensuring everyone has read and understood the latest version. Of course operations will not always go smoothly. The plan should therefore include a procedure to follow in the event of things going awry. In particular it should ensure that any decisions about changes go to the appropriate level of authority.

One final word of advice: If a lift is likely to be repeated at some point - as is common in maintenance operations - consider taking photos for reference. It's a cheap and easy way of adding value to future written plans.