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The Story of the Crane Operator




Story Time:


I remember working as a carpenter back in the early ‘80s. It was a company that ran a lot leaner on supervision and expected a lot of production from their people.


I remember we were installing soffit formwork on a big hotel project.


My foreman gave me a radio and told me to signal the crane as we were removing these great big “Flying Form Tables”.


I had never signaled a crane using a radio, and it was obvious. After about 10 minutes, the frustrated crane operator called over the radio for me to come down to the crane. I knew I was in trouble.


He proceeded to chew me out for a few minutes telling me why this wasn't working and how dangerous it was, but then his tone changed. He worked with me to tell me how he wanted me to give him signals.


We went back to work and became a pretty good team. Our crane movements were much safer and more productive.


Now, the only reason our teamwork came to fruition is because he chose not to sit back and complain, and instead decided to step up and give me the “on the job” training that I truly needed. It only took a matter of minutes to make our jobsite much safer, and much more efficient.


I think we all need to have this mentality, to help each other out when it is needed. When we see craft people, or even office people struggling. Let’s correct them, but then let’s teach them the correct way.


Working together as a team will always make us safer and more productive.


By the way, this is a true story. The operator’s name is James Buckwalter. I worked with him in Scottsdale, Arizona on the Phoenician Hotel Project. He ran a big crawler crane for us when he wasn’t flying smokejumper planes fighting forest fires. I was reunited with James when I unexpectedly saw him at our Boeing Everett Project, running a crane. Thank you James for taking the time to train me and many other people.


Now, the whole point of this story was to circle back to present day and talk about surveying your crews. There was a time when I was working for a much larger company than the one in the story, and I conducted a survey on our craft/crews, asking them what they are struggling with, and what they need training on, or what they feel could improve on our jobsites.


Conducting this survey was a huge step to opening up dialogue that was way overdue. Constructive ideas give you tangible things to work on as a team. The success of any safety program depends on the teamwork between the office and the craft. Plans come from the office, and the craft executes. You are two sides of the same coin.


The better you are at communicating, the better off you will be as a team. The closer you are as a team, the more likely you are to care about each other. When you care about each other, you start to watch out for one another out of genuine caring from the heart. When you watch out for each other, you become safer because you are more likely to call each other one when someone is doing something that is potentially harmful to themselves or for the crew.


Safety stems from communication. Survey your teams and figure out where there is miscommunication.



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