Manning his machine

By Drum Digital
05 September 2011

Operating a big crane is not for the faint-hearted. It’s also not everyone’s dream job, being stuck in a small rig, moving construction materials to and fro.

But Stanley Bhekithemba Mwelase (38) wouldn’t swap his job for anything else. A former computer salesman who had his own company, Stanley came to crane operating by chance.

“I met someone who was a crane operator; we became friends and I got interested in his job.”

He did a crane operating course, qualified and set to work. Today he works for Steinmüller Africa at the company’s Middelburg depot and couldn’t be happier.

“I’ve discovered what it means to enjoy and find fulfilment in your job,” he says.

Operating a crane is not all fun and games.

“It can be dangerous if you are working in rainy or windy conditions,” Stanely says. “Depending on the client, I start work at 8 or 9 am and finish at 5 or 6 pm. Sometimes you have to wait for your load to be delivered or for the client to explain where he wants material placed.”

He comes to work in his uniform. When he arrives he puts on his safety gear then performs a safety check on the crane.

“It’s a crucial part of the job,” he explains. “We check for a lot of things including cracks in the hook, hydraulic leaks, low oil levels, deflated tyres, if there’s a fire extinguisher, the brakes are working and if the boom is in working order,” he says.

Stanley reports any problems to the site supervisor immediately. If everything is in order, he gets his instructions on which loads he is lifting and where they’re moving to.

He says knowledge of maths and science comes in handy as he sometimes needs to calculate the weight of his load and the distance it must travel.

Then he climbs into his rig and gets on with the job. Once he is done for the day, he makes sure the crane hook is secure so that it doesn’t move around during the night if there is wind. Then he locks up the rig.

“It’s a challenging but rewarding job,” says Stanley, who loves meeting new people on site. There’s never a dull moment in this crane operator’s life.

Best part of the job?

Driving and operating a crane are two different things. The best part for me is working with the mechanics of the crane – the gadgets that make it possible to lift and move things.

What I wear

I always wear PPE (proper protective equipment) clothing which comprises a uniform with reflective strips, goggles, safety boots, a hard-hat and gloves.

How I destress

I love spending time with my family, which is very supportive. I also enjoy long motorbike rides around Piet Retief.

HOW I BECAME A CRANE OPERATOR

After matriculating at Bonginhlanhla High School in Pongola in 1995, I moved to Joburg and did a three-year diploma in electrical engineering at Benoni Technical College.

After graduating I opened my own business selling computers to local schools.

I then learnt about crane operating from a friend and decided to change direction. So in 2005 I attended AK Progressive Training and did a crane operating certificate course. When I finished I became a facilitator at the same institute. A year later I joined Babcock where I worked as a crane operator for three years. I also completed a one-year certificate course in safety management. In 2009 I joined Steinmüller Africa.

CHALLENGES

Being aware of safety all the time. You can’t let your concentration slip because that’s when accidents happen.

HIGHLIGHTS

Helping less experienced crane operators do their job correctly as sometimes people mix up their hand signals or don’t lift correctly.

PITFALLS

Having to make unsafe lifts sometimes – this is dangerous.

Read more about his career in DRUM, 8 September 2011.

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