Tower cranes – Duties of principal contractor

This information bulletin provides a summary of the duties of the principal contractor in relation to a tower crane at their site.

Principal contractors have multiple duties under the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 - the WHS (NUL) Act. In relation to tower cranes the work health and safety legislation imposes duties on them to ensure that the tower crane is, so far as is reasonably practicable, without risks to the health and safety of any person.

This includes ensuring the tower crane is correctly installed, commissioned, maintained, operated, dismantled and removed from site.

While principal contractors will usually contract others to carry out many of the specific tasks they still retain a level of responsibility for the site.

Under Section 272 of the WHS (NUL) Act, any agreement or contract will become void if it purports to exclude, limit, modify or transfer any duties of the principal contractor owed under the Act.

Once the crane is on site the principal contractor needs to ensure scheduled maintenance, inspection and testing of the tower crane is completed by a competent person.

To demonstrate the principal contractor’s compliance with their duties the following documents should be readily available on site for verification by the principal contractor, health and safety representative (HSR), etc.

This is not an exhaustive list and additional documents may be required depending on the type of crane and site specific requirements.

  1. Documentation for pre-operation activities:
  • Details of design registration
  • Certificate of item registration
  • Pre-erection inspection reports, including details of non-destructive testing
  • Safe work method statements for tower crane erection, climbing and access
  • Major inspections (if applicable)
  • Crane standing design, including engineers and geotechnical reports/drawings in relation to footings, foundations and anchorages (as applicable)
  • Engineers design for crane ties and additional signage (if applicable)
  • Commissioning report
  • Records of lifting gear inspections
  • Current operators manual
  • Copies of crane crew high risk work licenses and induction which should include trial operation of the crane on site.

2. Ongoing maintenance and modification documentation:

  • Daily inspection checklists
  • Routine maintenance reports
  • Breakdown maintenance, including repairs
  • Crane climbs and tie installations
  • Records of periodic inspections
  • Reviews of safe work method statements and records of revisions
  • Records of any modifications and relevant approvals (as required).

Design and item registration

In the Northern Territory, tower cranes including self-erecting tower cranes require both design and item registration. Refer to plant design and item registration on the NT WorkSafe website for further information.

Operators manual

An operator’s manual applicable to the tower crane in service should be readily available to the tower crane operator. The operator’s manual serves as a backup to the operator familiarisation training on the specific requirements and functions of the tower crane. It should also include the crane maintenance requirements.

Pre-erection inspection and testing

Tower crane components must be inspected and tested before delivering to the workplace. Pre-erection inspection and testing of the tower crane components is to be performed by competent persons as per manufacturer’s requirements or where these do not exist refer to Australian Standard AS 2550.4-2004 Cranes, hoists and winches - Safe use - Tower cranes.

Except for new cranes, this should include non-destructive testing of critical areas such as vital welds, connectors, slew ring bolts, slew ring attachment. Records of inspections should contain sufficient detail to identify the work performed.

For further information see the Safe Work Australia Guide to inspecting and maintaining cranes.

Engineers and geotechnical reports

An engineer’s report should be provided approving suitability of the crane foundation/standing as per design. The crane foundation drawings should reference a site specific geotechnical report where the crane is supported by the ground (soil or rock).

Where crane ties are used, engineers’ reports should also be provided approving the design of the ties and the suitability of the support structure.

Non-destructive inspection reports

Non-destructive inspection of specific components is required as part of the pre-erection inspection. Repairs or modifications may also require non-destructive inspection as advised by the manufacturer or a competent person. Details of all inspection and testing shall be documented.

Erecting a tower crane

Erection of tower cranes is high risk construction work. Failure to erect or dismantle tower cranes according to the crane designer’s or manufacturer’s instructions may result in injury to people and property damage from:

  • crane collapse
  • falls from heights, and
  • falling objects.

A Safe Work Method Statement for high risk construction work must be prepared to erect a tower crane and should consider:

  • the crane designer’s or manufacturer’s instructions
  • crane stability
  • the adverse effects on other plant, structures or work processes
  • use of special tools, jigs and appliances necessary to minimise the risk of injury
  • control measures for securing crane components
  • environmental factors including wet or windy conditions, and
  • relevant electrical installations associated with the crane complying with AS/NZS 3000:2018: Wiring Rules.

Lifting gear inspection

Records of lifting gear testing and inspection should include certification for the crane hook, and hoist rope, and inspection records for slings and other lifting gear. Provisions should be made for appropriate storage of lifting gear.

Commissioning Report

A commissioning report should be provided by a competent person. The report should detail the inspections and tests undertaken to ensure the tower crane has been erected as per the manufacturer’s requirements and all required systems and safety devices have been tested as satisfactory.

Maintenance and inspection of plant

Maintenance and inspection of the tower crane must be carried out by competent persons in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. If there are no manufacturer’s recommendations, then maintenance should be performed in accordance with recommendations of a competent person or Australian Standard AS 2550.4-2004 Cranes, hoists and winches - Safe use - Tower cranes.

Crane modifications

Any modification to a tower crane not in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications requires compliance or certification, such as an engineers’ certificate approving the modification. For example, adding signage outside the manufacturer’s specifications requires compliance and certification paperwork detailing that the crane can withstand the additional weight, wind loadings and/or electrical draw.