What Does a Tower Crane Operator Do?

Dan Cavallari

A tower crane operator is responsible for the proper and safe operation of a large piece of equipment known as a tower crane. This type of crane is designed to lift heavy loads off the ground to significant heights, and it is usually used in construction settings, particularly during construction of very tall buildings or structures. The tower crane operator must undergo training to learn how to safely operate the crane, and once training is complete, he or she must take certification exams. After certification, the crane operator will usually undergo a lengthy apprenticeship.

Tower crane operators work with ground crews to lift construction materials to great heights.
Tower crane operators work with ground crews to lift construction materials to great heights.

This apprenticeship is intended to allow the tower crane operator the opportunity to practice his or her skills under the direct guidance and supervision of a more experienced operator. Even with the proper credentials, the tower crane operator apprentice is likely to spend between one and five years as an apprentice before he or she can work alone in a tower crane. During the first phase of the apprenticeship, the apprentice is likely to simply observe the more experienced operator; during the next phase, the apprentice will perform some of the more basic tasks associated with crane operation; during the last phase, the apprentice will perform all crane duties under supervision.

The tower crane is a difficult piece of equipment to operate, and it can be an intimidating process. The tower crane operator must understand how this exceptionally tall structure works, and how to construct it from the ground up. The tower crane is a temporary structure, and the operator will have an active hand in the machine's construction and deconstruction, as well as its regular inspection to ensure all parts are working safely and properly. Once the structure is built, the operator will sit in the operator's cabin, which may move along the horizontal jib of the structure. This cabin is usually at the top of the structure, high off the ground to allow for better viewing of all areas surrounding the crane.

Regular operation of the crane involves raising or lowering a cable or series of cables that can be affixed to loads on the ground. This means the operator will work with a ground crew that will signal to the operator where to lower the hook, where to adjust the boom, and when to raise or lower the cable. Hand signals may be used, though radio communication is more likely and is often used in conjunction with hand signals.

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