Fall Protection: Best Practices For Industrial Overhead Cranes

Industrial overhead cranes used within facilities to transport large, heavy, and bulky loads offer a variety of safety benefits to operations with precision remote handling and the ability for an operator to maintain a safe distance while directing the equipment. Most cranes are utilized to move a load side to side, backwards, and forwards from one point to another while the operator remains at floor level. However, when inspecting or servicing cranes, these activities require personnel to be working at height.

Although a mobile scissor lift, aerial work platform or crane walkway can provide access to the crane components, fall protection must still always be used when working at heights. In some situations — such as the manufacturing and assembly of extremely large or tall machinery, or the need to perform maintenance on a large piece of equipment — a physical platform can be used to access the equipment. In these cases, to ensure that this type of work to be performed safely, a fall protection system must be deployed.

The most commonly used fall protection system for operator safety when working in and around cranes at heights is known as a fall arrest system. These devices include a harness worn by the operator latched to a self-retracting lanyard that is connected to an overhead anchor point. Should an operator lose their balance and fall, the system reacts immediately to ensure they are stopped and suspended mid-air.

When used in the same areas where overhead cranes are located, a decision must be made as to where to position the anchor point, or multiple anchor points. Depending on the operation, the type of overhead crane used, and the work that must be performed, a variety of solutions may be utilized.

The OSHA standard for fall protection systems criteria and practices states:

1926.502(d)(15) Anchorages used for attachment of personal fall arrest equipment shall be independent of any anchorage being used to support or suspend platforms and capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds (22.2 kN) per employee attached, or shall be designed, installed, and used as follows:

1926.502(d)(15)(i) as part of a complete personal fall arrest system which maintains a safety factor of at least two; and

1926.502(d)(15)(ii) under the supervision of a qualified person.

Some systems use a fixed anchor point on the crane that is capable of supporting the OSHA required 5,000 pounds; others use a second fall arrest system added along the runways or bridge as a separate anchor point, allowing the employee to move freely. In these situations, the crane must be locked-out/tagged-out to prevent its movement while the employee is working on the crane. Additionally, other safety systems can be folded in and out of the crane’s operating area as needed when the crane is immobilized and locked out.

In applications where the operator and the crane must both be able to move, a secondary support system for lanyard connection points can be installed above the crane’s bridge and girders. In this case, systems should be installed to prevent the crane from colliding with the fall protection system, these could include zone limits or physical crane stops.

Best practices that keep employees safe from falls when working at heights include:

  • Always use a fall protection system.
  • Assign a second employee on the ground to monitor the area, in addition to the worker at height. This person watches for interference while the operator overhead focuses on the task at hand. The floor-based employee also warns others approaching the area of the overhead work being performed. In the event the safety system being engaged, they can also provide immediate assistance to the worker at height as being suspended by a harness for an extended length of time can cause injury.
  • Cordoning off the entire work area at floor level to protect pedestrians from possible falling tools, parts, or other items that may not be secured overhead.
  • Lock-out/tag-out the overhead crane per OSHA guidelines prior to performing the service work.

Looking for more information on overhead crane and fall protection systems? The members of the Crane Manufacturers Association of America (CMAA) represent the industry’s leading suppliers of overhead crane systems and are available to answer any questions. Additionally, the group offers a variety of resources — including buyers’ guides, engineering specifications, OSHA Alliance safety tip and fact sheets, inspection and maintenance checklists, safety seminars and more—via its website at