Multiplex crane driver Ben, 29, lists skyline views, the bonds with his team mates and good pay as the perks of his job, driving an 18-tonne luffer crane on developer Blackburne’s One Subiaco site at the top of Rokeby Road.
Ben left school aged 16 at the end of Year 11 to start a carpentry apprenticeship. He lived in Warrnambool, on the shipwreck coast in Victoria’s south west. “I started building sheds,” he says. “I was at a job one day, saw a crane and I thought, that’s a cool bit of kit.”
He was 18 and he was hooked. “It got me doing my dogman and riggers licence and I’ve played with cranes ever since,” he says. He worked as a rigger with a mobile crane driver to install 140 wind turbines at AGL MacArthur Wind Farm, between Hamilton and Warrnambool in south-west Victoria. The 3MW turbines are 90 metres high with rotors spanning just over 100 metres from tip to tip.
When the work ran out, Ben packed up his trailer and his dog and headed west to join some of his mates on the other side of the Nullarbor Plain. He got a construction job at the Westin Hotel in 2015, and a crane driver took him under his wing and showed him the ropes. Ben worked through a series of qualifications including CT (crane tower) and CO (crane open)
“The first time, I was nervous about being up so high,” Ben says. “Just one mistake could lead to a serious incident.”
More than six years and several qualifications later, Ben says his experience has given him confidence. Crane drivers need to conduct rigorous safety checks, pay careful attention to detail, have good communication with their dogger, be open to learning and most of all, be a good listener.
Ben has a series of tickets, including for forklift, first aid, dogging and rigging - basic, intermediate and advanced, Elevated Work Platform, Working at Heights, a High Risk Work Licence, crane tower and crane open tickets.
He operates one of three cranes at the One Subiaco site at the top end of Rokeby Road. It can take 10 to 15 minutes to climb the ladder. Once he’s there, he starts a long list of safety checks, fills in his logbooks, starts up and checks that everything is working. He has a fridge and a 12-volt oven to heat his lunch.
He brings up formwork, cables, scaffolding, shutters and kibbles of concrete. Of the tower, hammer head and luffer cranes, he prefers the luffers, with the booms that go up and down, because they are more complex and they can lift more. Monitoring the weather, particularly wind speed, becomes second nature.
Teamwork and good communication are essential, Ben says. He has worked with his current dogman for four years and they have developed a clear understanding of how to work together safely.
“You need to have a good relationship with your dogman - they are telling you where you are and what you are doing,” he says. “You have got to have trust in your dogman. When I can’t see, my dogmen are my eyes. It’s high stakes. Once you get a good team and you know what you are doing, it’s fun.”
He says being a crane driver is a great career and dogger and riggers tickets are “a ticket to learn”.
“You have got to use your head and be safe,” he says. “Listen to what everyone’s got to say.”
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