Cranes Today NASCAR

Jul 23, 2004

Rigging crews are not featured on ESPN Saturday afternoons sweating it out in the trenches. But they ought to be. Their jobs involve the same skill, expertise and demand for accuracy as a NASCAR pit crew. One mistake or loss of team communication can bring fatal results. Working on a NASCAR pit crew is sometimes called organized mayhem. It involves using technologically advanced tools and getting dirty.

Barnhart Crane and Rigging, established in 1969, is a leading supplier of rigging solutions and wanted to train their foreman in on-site communications. “Using a NASCAR analogy was immediately obvious especially since this was a team building exercise,” stated Jim Yates, Barnhart’s Vice President of Engineering and Technical Services, who created the training program. The popularity and appeal of NASCAR assured that the program would keep interest. Most importantly however, are the commonalities necessary to success between the two crews. Communication is key. The program started with the group listing the duties of a NASCAR pit crew and creating analogies to their own duties.

Crew chiefs and foreman have roles in common that were analyzed including crew builder, trainer, task planner, spotter, motivator, analyzer and most importantly, communicator. In rigging, the same gear is used but each site brings different challenges along with a constant need for job efficiency. The work itself is fast but must be safe and to like a pit crew the work must be planned, practiced and performed and then it is off to the next job. A pit crew chief is responsible for making keen and quick decisions, but is also responsible for his team.

The entire training session consistently focused on communication and how to best communicate to the team. Barnhart provides a full range of crane and rigging services through its US network of branches as well as project cargo logistics and heavy equipment storage at its Heavy Lift Terminal at the Port of Memphis. Their annual management meeting provided the opportunity to bring all of the key players from these sites together. “We begin every course with a year-end review, lessons learned what we did right and a safety review,” stated Yates, “mixing it up with a NASCAR analogy kept it interesting, we were able to make it relevant to our business.”

The meeting was designed to first discuss the role of a NASCAR pit crew, allow the group to create analogies between the crew and their own, to discuss and participate in an exercise that cemented relevancy to the day. There are two times that it is crucial to stop, think and discuss. First, at the beginning of the job is the pre-job brief. This meeting prepares for the job and is conducted before performing operations, maintenance or testing. The job must be laid out, like a race to review expectations and set up the day. Much like a pit crew chief, he must evaluate the crew and determine who will perform each job. Yates continued, “If the superintendent is communicating with the crew that reduces accidents and makes the job efficient.” Elements of the pre-job brief were reviewed and debated.

The elements to a successful pre-job brief are:

  • Review the job. Simply going over what all is to be accomplished makes sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Role of each crewmember in performing the job. Often times each member of the team and their duties are not identified in the beginning.
  • Identify and secure the needed tools.
  • Discuss the hazards of the job and what strategy will be taken to avoid and mitigate them.
  • Provide feedback from the crew and emphasize crucial points in the job.
  • Allow for feedback from the crew and listen to their concerns, adjusting the job accordingly.

The group went on to discuss how these steps are simple in nature but can sometimes be lost in the hustle of beginning a job. This is the main error found in pre-job planning, not conducting the simple briefing meetings. The group identified other errors such as not planning for the brief, not including all of the men in the crew and not covering all of these elements in the brief along with conducting the brief in a noisy area.

The second pivotal moment to brief the team is prior to an actual lift. Discussion was held within the group to differentiate between pre-job and pre-lift briefings. A pre-job brief is done at the start of every day to line out the work to be done and to discuss the hazards of the overall job. A pre-lift brief on the other hand, is held right before a critical lift, haul, roll-off or other monumental point in the job. This meeting gets the crew focused to the task at hand and provides an opportunity for specific assignments for the crucial part of the job.

How do you preventing accidents while providing for job efficiency? Yates stressed to the group “(I) f the superintendent is communicating with his crew this is what will reduce accidents and make the job efficient.” Accidents are reduced by holding these meetings because the team focuses on the work and not all of the other things on their mind such as their spouse, children, bills, sports – anything else that clouds the mind. If someone cannot focus on their job it is best for them to not be at work. The group was provided pre-job and pre-lift briefing pocket sized cards with the elements to guide them through these meetings.

Talk can be cheap. Real work situations are where the pre-job and pre-lift elements and practice will be tested. Yates gave the group a real job situation to practice the communications and planning tools. All of the elements necessary, including drawings and photographs were provided to the group. What the group was not told was that this job came from OSHA materials that detailed the failed lift performed by another rigging company. After the group went through what needed to take place, Yates reviewed what really happened. In the real situation, the foreman was killed and the rigger lost both of his legs.

In the example situation no pre-job meeting was held, because the group had “done this job a thousand times before” according to the materials from OSHA. The light pole got out of control (no tag line was used) and it struck the power lines. The foreman and rigger were attempting to steady the pole by hand when it hit the power lines. The exercise demonstrated the impact that pre-planning and communication has on jobs and lifts. OSHA determined that the primary cause of the accident was inadequate communication before the start of the job. There was no pre-job meeting to discuss the hazards and how to limit their threat.

The session concluded by summarizing the key points to carry from the meeting.

  • Pre-job and pre-lift meetings play important roles in communicating the job to the team.
  • These meetings focus the men on the job and remind them about the hazards of our work.
  • They help the team get their minds on the job.
  • They are MANDATORY.

In addition to the reminder pocket cards, the course featured handouts, including rigging handbooks and foremen’s handbooks. The foremen’s handbooks included information on safety operations, standard operating procedures, data sheets on chemicals that are often present on job sites specification sheets on equipment and various other required paperwork.

By comparing their situation and job to that of a NASCAR pit crew, the participants were able to focus on an appealing subject that allowed them to take a serious look at their jobs. Experiencing firsthand the necessity to communicate will help them win the race to be efficient safely every time.

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