Cranes are one of the major risk areas on a construction site, but a team of researchers at Monash University have come up with a new approach to reducing the risks—using real-time sensing technology and gaming software.
According to Worksafe Queensland, there have been 650 incidents involving workers being crushed, pinned or trapped by mobile plant, and one in four of these incidents occurred in the construction industry. Slewing cranes caused 38 of the incidents where a person was either injured or exposed to serious risks.
Scissor lifts, tower cranes, boom cranes, elevated work platforms, and truck-mounted cranes have also been part of serious safety incidents, including fatalities.
There have been 650 incidents involving workers being crushed, pinned or trapped by mobile plant, and one in four of these incidents occurred in the construction industry.
Earlier this year, for example, one worker was killed, one critically injured and one seriously hurt at a Melbourne construction site. A kibble full of wet concrete that was being craned over the area fell on them while they were in a pit on site.
Researchers from Monash University’s Department of Civil Engineering have identified some of the major factors that are contributing to the distressingly high number of safety incidents. According to Monash Lecturer in Construction Engineering and Management Dr Yihai Fang, current practices in lift planning and operation are ineffective and severely out of date in terms of recognising and mitigating potential safety risks.
He says that cranes coming into contact with live power lines often cause incidents where people are hit by parts of a crane or by crane loads, or are electrocuted.
Current approaches also can’t respond to the increasing complexity of construction sites.
Tight site layouts that allow for little room for manoeuvring or materials laydown, time pressures that see multiple activities happening concurrently, and the high traffic and pedestrian flows around urban construction sites all make mitigating the risks more difficult.
“Many of these [crane safety] incidents are due to the misjudging of space between cranes in the work site and surrounding entities, such as workers, power lines, and structures,” Fang explains. “Current practices cannot ensure a safe workplace during crane lifts because of a number of deficiencies in existing planning techniques—the most severe being inadequate consideration to avoid cranes swinging over workers.”
“Current practices cannot ensure a safe workplace during crane lifts because of a number of deficiencies in existing planning techniques."
His research has found the situational awareness of operators is critical. When compared with other types of equipment, operating a crane is more sophisticated and mentally demanding, making crane operators more vulnerable to human errors.
Fang’s team have created software using a game engine to create a better lift planning and training approach that can lower risks. They employed sensing, simulation and visualisation to enhance training and operations.
The Lift Virtual Prototyping (LVP) system enables a lift team to plan lift activities through a process of modelling, simulation, and analysis. The hi-tech solution enables crane lifts to be pre-planned and undertaken virtually before work is attempted on site.
The system can also be used to optimise the crane’s location and lift path based on pre-designed models and accurate cloud data that represents the workspace, including up-to-date spatial constraints at the time of the lift.
“Our starting point was to be able to try and identify possible human errors [with a lift] ahead of time in the simulation, and find the most appropriate way to mitigate them,” Fang says.
The technology may also help with efficiency. It will assist teams to select the best craneage solution for a project and where to locate it, taking into consideration both the optimal coverage and the planned lifting sequence.
The technology is expected to be capable of integrating with a 3D BIM model, Fang explains, as well as with four-dimensional BIM approaches that include time-related factors. These may refer to works programs and scheduling in the virtual build modelling information.
“No worker should feel unsafe while on the job, and these new technologies might provide a life-saving solution."
This would mean, for instance, that when deliveries are expected, the delivery information can be included in the lift planning.
“So it can also change according to the actual project progress,” Fang says.
Fang’s team have also created a Real-time Smart Crane system that can capture the crane motions and monitor the spatial clearances between the crane parts or load and the surroundings. This provides real-time assistance with improving safety.
It can also detect if a worker approaches or enters the crane workspace and alert the appropriate personnel, including the crane operator.
The system has been trialled on site, and the results of the trials have been integrated into the platform.
“No worker should feel unsafe while on the job, and these new technologies might provide a life-saving solution,” says Fang.