My Coast Guard
Commentary | March 8, 2022

How to spot hazardous equipment and operators

By Janki Patel, MyCG Staff

Safe operation of machinery used to service and repair assets is a year-round concern, but the Coast Guard is placing special emphasis on bringing awareness to the issue by designating March as Support Equipment Safety Awareness Month. Unit supervisors and support equipment operators are encouraged to participate in the campaign and units are expected to conduct the half-day safety activities.

Some examples of support equipment (SE) include tow tractors, fuel trucks, power carts, overhead cranes, and mobile hoists. Weight handling equipment and material handling equipment (WHE and MHE) are types of equipment, including cranes, rigging gear, and hoists. MHE includes machinery normally used in storage and handling operations in and around warehouses, shipyards, industrial plants, airfields, magazines, depots, docks, and terminals.

These operating environments are inherently hazardous with increased potential for serious injury and even death, as well as major property damage, when operated by untrained or unqualified personnel.

March’s SE Safety Awareness Campaign will benefit WHE and MHE operators who work on and around this range of equipment. All crane and forklift commands, supervisors, operators, and crew members, particularly those assigned to warehouses, buoy tenders, aid to navigation teams, and remote locations where there are limited mission support facilities, will also benefit from participating in this campaign.

“By educating and alerting the field operators that if they take a proactive approach to stay informed about industry safety and best practices, it will prevent the next accident,” said Cmdr. Kyle Russell deputy director of the Logistics Transformation Program Integration Office. “Our overall goal is to promote a culture of safety, focus on human performance, and increase awareness of the risks associated with operating safety equipment.”

Recent investigations into Coast Guard incidents revealed that three leading root causes of mishaps were training, supervision, and maintenance, all of which are tied to human performance. Lifting loads improperly, attempting to hoist loads greater than rated equipment capacity, inadequate maintenance, load-test failure, and no annual equipment certification are some of the primary causes of catastrophic equipment failure.

Since January 2020, the Coast Guard has experienced 32 crane and forklift mishaps, including a crane heel-over and two near-misses impacting personnel and productivity.

The Support Equipment Program (SEP) managed by the Support Equipment Product Line (SEPL) was established to mitigate associated risks. As a part of this effort, the program is designed to create a culture of safety focused on preventing the next accident.

Over the next year, the SEPL will conduct unit visits to promote risk assessment, professionally supervised operations, and properly maintained and supported equipment managed by the SEPL.  

The efforts from SEPL will be the first step in standardizing WHE and MHE asset types as well as human performance, command supervision, risk assessment, and maintenance to significantly improve readiness and operations safety through the employment of qualified and proficient performers. 

You can access the Support Equipment Safety Awareness Campaign toolkit on the SEPL portal page including informative videos, toolbox talk, and presentations.

Units should work with their operational commanders to coordinate a specific time to conduct the Safety Awareness Campaign activities to minimize the impact on operations and training.

Currently the Coast Guard does not have a standard training program to certify equipment operators to the level of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American National Standards Institute standards required to operate WHE and MHE at USCG field units, sectors, bases, and Coast Guard industrial facilities. The SEPL is working with Force Readiness Command to establish training and certification requirements. In the meantime, units should use their internally developed job qualification requirements and procedures for training and certifying operators.