Expectations for tower cranes - position paper

The following are the SafeWork NSW expectations in relation to the matters raised by the Coroners in relation to the tower crane fire and collapse at Broadway in 2012 and the death of a crane operator at North Sydney in 2014.

Under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation various entities have obligations in relation to tower cranes, including the crane owners, others with management or control of the crane, those maintaining the crane and those with onsite management of the crane (usually the Principal Contractor).

Fire control and warning

As there are a wide range of tower crane designs and power sources there is no one size fits all solution.  Whilst it is possible to minimise the risk of a fire on a tower crane it is not considered reasonably practicable to eliminate the possibility of a fire occurring, therefore the focus here is on minimising the risk by preventing a fire from reaching an intensity that could endanger the operator or result in catastrophic failure of the crane.

Cranes with a significant quantity of combustible fluids (diesel or hydraulic fluid)

There is potential for combustible fluids to leak on to an existing fire causing a longer, more intense fire which could cause mechanical or structural damage to the crane. 

These cranes should be fitted with a pre-plumbed, extinguisher system aimed at locations where the combustible fluids could pool and burn. Unless automatically activated, the control should be readily accessible to the crane operator.

The fitting of a fire warning system, eg a fire detection system or camera within the power pack with operator cabin display, should be considered.  Where a fire warning system is not fitted, you will need to record that consideration and determination in the crane documentation, eg how the existing engine monitoring systems etc already provide adequate early warning.

Cranes with no, or low quantities of, combustible fluids

Many electric cranes are considered to have insufficient quantities of combustible fluids to cause a fire of sufficient intensity and duration to warrant the above measures.

All tower cranes

Even tower cranes without an operator cabin have inspection or maintenance workers working at height and should have fire extinguishers fitted to allow evacuation in the event of a fire.


The provision of programmed maintenance is a task relying on coordination between the site and maintenance provider to enable the maintenance to be conducted on schedule and in a safe manner. Unfortunately, like many outdoor activities, maintenance may be disrupted by the weather and may need to be rescheduled at short notice.

The WHS legislation requires that where more than one entity has a duty in relation to the same matter they must, so far as is reasonably practicable, consult, co-operate and coordinate activities with the other duty holders. However, each entity retains responsibility for their duty even if they delegate the actual actions needed to discharge the duty to others.

The site controller, usually the principal contractor, needs to consult, co-operate and coordinate activities with the maintenance provider to minimise, so far as reasonably practicable, the risks to health and safety of the maintenance personnel caused by the site controller’s actions or inactions.  Issues to consider include:

  • incorporating programmed maintenance into the build schedule
  • providing the crane in a suitable condition eg engine not too hot to work on safely
  • scheduling adequate down time for the maintenance tasks
  • providing suitable access, including if scheduled for outside normal site hours,  maintaining hoist operation, access lighting etc
  • maintaining availability of site facilities such as toilets, drinking water, washing facilities and eating facilities, including if scheduled for outside normal site hours
  • for tasks requiring daylight for safe performance of the tasks, scheduling the work for day time

Replacement and/or fitting of IROFSD suction and feed hoses

All IROFSD suction and feed hoses running from the hydraulic oil tank should be replaced with fire resistant, or better grade, hydraulic hoses.  The selection of replacement hoses should be made in consultation with a specialist hydraulic hose supplier or the crane manufacturer.

Where a crane is already erected on site, IROFSD hoses should be protected by a fire resistant cover, and the hose replaced as above before the crane is next erected.

The maintenance manual should be updated to list the new hose specifications, rather than the old IROFSD hoses, as the specification for future replacement hoses.

New cranes are to be supplied with fire resistant suction and feed hoses.

Safety of persons ascending/descending or working on the crane.

When crane operators or maintenance personnel are ascending/descending or working on the crane they are often alone and from the time they begin to climb the crane are engaged in remote or isolated work.  Therefore an effective communication system is required to manage the risk of them being unable to get help in an emergency.

For crane operators, this could be as simple as having a 2-way radio in the cabin and advising a specified person that they are about to ascend/descend and for that person to wait for advice of completion of the climb before attending to other duties.  If no such advice is received in a reasonable climbing time the specified person is to investigate and if necessary raise the alarm.

For maintenance workers, what is an effective communication system will depend on the circumstances, eg how many people are working on the crane, their locations, the tasks and weather. It may be carrying a 2-way radio or some other system.

Updating crane documentation

Any changes made to the crane, fire warning systems or systems of work regarding the crane should be updated in the relevant crane documentation.