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786 Incorrect load testing of steel lifting frames

Report ID: 786

Published: Newsletter 54 - April 2019

Report Overview

On two occasions, a reporter has experienced issues with load tests on steel lifting frames and wonders how many other load tests may have been carried out incorrectly without being noticed.

Report Content

On two occasions a reporter has been responsible for the design of steel lifting frames used to assist in the handling and transport of piping equipment in the weight range of 5-10tonnes. The normal design and fabrication process for these items is for the engineering contractor to provide a design drawing to a steelwork fabricator indicating: the geometry, detailing and load test requirements for the steelwork frame; the required capacities and sizes for associated rigging items; as well as carrying out design calculations to ensure the lifting frame is suitable for the applied loads during use/testing.

The lifting frame is fabricated by a subcontracted steelwork fabricator and then passed to a specialised lifting/testing subcontractor (engaged by the steelwork fabricator) for load testing. Load testing is usually specified in the range of 1.5 to 2.0 times the safe working load of the frame and includes testing of the associated rigging items. Certification is then provided by the lifting/testing subcontractor to allow use of the lifting frame. A witness from the engineering contractor is usually (although not always) present during the load test.

On the first occasion, says the reporter, the rigging had not been installed in accordance with the design drawing, and none of the testing subcontractors’ employees even had a copy of the design drawing with them at the site. It was evident that actual in-service loads would have exceeded those applied during the load test, potentially uncovering a manufacturing defect during use that had not been found during testing. The lifting frame would have been used in close proximity to personnel and sensitive equipment, and given the weights involved, any defect or failure could easily have caused a fatality or significant damage.

On the second occasion, continues the reporter, the frame was again incorrectly rigged, tested, certified and shipped for use. Back calculations showed that the load test using the incorrect rigging had not applied loads which exceeded the actual in-service loads. The frame certification was voided and a second load test, using the correct rigging, was arranged. Again, the under-application of loads had the potential to mask a failure which could have resulted in a fatality or damage.

The reporter is concerned about an apparent lack of understanding regarding the criticality of lifting operations and a poor attitude evident at the lifting and testing subcontractors’ premises. It is especially concerning considering that the lifting and testing subcontractor should be 'the expert' in such matters but seems to be unaware of the importance of the work they are undertaking or the impact of deviating from engineering documents. The reporter is concerned about how many other load tests may have been carried out incorrectly without being noticed, and whether this is happening regularly elsewhere in the industry.

 

Comments

The Machinery Directive (2006/42/EC) and the enacting legislation in the UK (The Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008) provide the requirements for load testing of lifting machinery and lifting accessories. The legislation states that "when lifting machinery or lifting accessories are placed on the market or are first put into service, the manufacturer or his authorised representative must ensure, by taking appropriate measures or having them taken, that the machinery or the lifting accessories which are ready for use - whether manually or power-operated - can fulfil their specified functions safely". Static and dynamic tests must be performed on all lifting machinery ready to be put into service. The lifting frame discussed in this report is likely to be classified as a lifting accessory and BS EN 13155 Cranes - Safety - Non-fixed load lifting attachments is one of the relevant standards. The Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) provide clear guidance on both how to comply with the legislation and how to transfer key information between the designer, manufacturer and user.

The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) place duties on people and companies who own, operate or have control over lifting equipment. This includes all businesses and organisations whose employees use lifting equipment, whether owned by them or not. In most cases, lifting equipment is also work equipment, so the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) will also apply. Both LOLER and PUWER include requirements for examination, inspection and maintenance.

All lifting operations involving lifting equipment must be properly planned by a competent person, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe manner. HSE, LEEA and many private organisations publish guidance on the regulations, standards and good practice, so it is surprising, and of concern, that in the cases reported above, there seemed to be no knowledge of the law in this regard. There may be a need for better understanding of the regulations and standards in the industry.

The key message from this report is that what is designed must be built, within acceptable tolerances. This raises the question of whether the appropriate level of expertise in the field is always able to recognise change in order to trigger either correction of the working method or re-design. For the cases discussed in this report, perhaps there should be a requirement in the contract with the lifting and testing contractor for photographs of the test so that the designer can undertake a visual check to compare as-designed with as-built rigging/test procedure.

 

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