What does a crane operator do?
Crane operators lift and transport heavy materials and equipment to and from higher and lower levels at locations such as building and construction sites, wharves and shipyards. They may operate a variety of cranes: overhead and gantry cranes used in factories and workshops, portal cranes used to move shipping containers, tower cranes used on large building projects, and mobile cranes that may be truck mounted.
Crane operators may perform the following tasks:
- check the condition of the ground before setting up the crane
- place timber blocks or steel plates under the outrigger pads
- attach wires, hooks, platforms, electromagnets, buckets and other implements before loading, manoeuvering and transporting supplies
- check that the crane is level on the outriggers before attempting to lift and place a load
- be aware of how much material can be safely hoisted in each load according to capacity and weather
- communicate with other workers through hand signals
- adhere to all safety regulations
- clean and service the equipment.
Zoliswa Gila | TOWER CRANE OPERATOR | 2010 Stadium
Why did you choose to do this job?
I always wanted to be up in the sky and to do something different. My dream was to be a pilot. I was unemployed for four years and looking for work when I found out that WBHO wanted to train people as tower crane operators. I applied, they called me, tested me in maths and English, and after that we went through training. A lot of people applied, but during training found out that they were scared of heights, or they failed the assignments. Eventually we were six women, of whom four failed. At the end of the training I was the only women, along with 15 men, who passed.
What training did you undergo?
I was taught how a tower crane works. There is a computer screen in the cab that tells you everything: if the crane has a problem, it warns you; it shows the wind speed; it shows your load from the point of pick up to where to drop it; and how you must slew with the jib. You learn about electricity: there is an electricity box in the cab – if there is a problem with the crane, you must be able to fix it. You must be able to recognise when there is a problem, and know when to report it.
What traits does a crane operator need to exhibit?
It’s not an easy job. People don’t understand that women can do this. You can’t be nervous; you have to be calm at all times. You carry a bucket of concrete weighing three tonnes and move it to another place. We sometimes move people to the top structure in man-cages, whilst having to avoid pylons. We also have cranes working next to each other, so you have to be very focused. You can’t be scared because you are alone up there. Even though you have a banksman on the ground with a radio telling you where to pick and drop off a load, you cannot just take instructions as they sometimes make mistakes. You must communicate at all times.
Experience vs training?
The training is very important. You must know what you are doing. A tower crane is a lifting machine – if you treat it wrong, it will treat you wrong. However, experience makes you much more comfortable doing the job. The crane I’m operating now is 70 metres, but I can also operate a 90-metre crane.
Describe a typical day
I do my inspection of the crane before I climb up at 7am. I call my banksman to make sure the radios are connecting as we must be in contact all day. We have a tea break and then back to work. We work until lunch break and then straight through until 6pm. I make sure I go to the ladies before climbing up!
What do you enjoy most?
I like my job because it’s my dream come true being up in the sky. I’ve learnt a lot of new things.
What aren’t you keen on?
Guys used to give me a really hard time. When I started it was not easy, the foreman used to say ‘I don’t want women working in my area’. But now that they see how well I work, they fight to have me working in their section.
Your career highlight?
The fact that I’m doing something that very few women do. Now I have the confidence to do anything. A big day was when I met President Zuma at the 365 days to the 2010 World Cup kick-off. He said he had seen me on TV and was looking forward to meeting me.
Advice for young women wanting to give it a try?
You must fight for what you want. Don’t say ‘I can’t do that, it’s for men’. Just go for it.
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?
There are no strict educational guidelines for crane operation; most crane operators get their experience through on-the-job training or apprenticeships. However, the law does require all crane operators to be formally trained. Most of the larger organisations offer in-service training, which is either done by a training officer, a foreman or an experienced senior operator. A minimum of grade 9 is required to get a crane operating licence.