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The business of crane safety: From skyscrapers to zoos to toilet paper

The boom in construction over the past several decades has led to a boom in cranes operating across Florida. That, in turn, has boosted a company dedicated to training people how to use cranes safely.

  • By Laura Lyon
  • | 5:00 a.m. June 21, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Ethan and Bo Collier are the second and third generations of Brandon-based Crane Tech.
Ethan and Bo Collier are the second and third generations of Brandon-based Crane Tech.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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When the Occupational Safety and Health Act was enacted in 1971, Charlie ‘Doc’ Collier was working as a safety engineer and bridge builder. As time went on he noticed people in the industry were having a hard time interpreting and applying the new regulations, his son Bo recalls. 

So Doc went the entrepreneurial route: he founded a company, Crane Tech, that helps tower crane operators, mobile crane operators, forklift drivers, bucket truck drivers and many others understand workforce safety. The company’s website touts, “Doc was a people person and a driven man who believed in his vision; that all men and women can put in a good day's work and return safely to their family at the end of each day.” He ran the company until he passed away in 1990, when Bo, who joined the crew in 1978, took over day to day operations of the Brandon-based firm as president.

Now the company is in its third generation of leadership — and is showing no signs of slowing down. “Crane Tech is a member of the family,” says Lou Collier, CFO and administrative generalist who came on board in 1990. (Lou is Bo’s wife.)

Crane Tech has 31 employees.
Courtesy image

Today Crane Tech has 31 employees, a 20,000 square foot under-roof training facility, a class room for 30 and instructors that traverse the country to do on-site client training. The Colliers declined to disclose revenue, but anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 students keep them busy each year. 

Of the types of clients they serve, many are in government, industrial and construction sectors with about half being in manufacturing. Bo and Lou maintain their roles, while their son Ethan took over daily operations as vice president three years ago. 

The work of preparing operators to work in the field and training up their instructors carries life-or-death importance. “Safety is a much bigger topic than it used to be,” Bo says, “But a lot of our clients are organizations that just can't afford to drop things.” 

In Understanding the Current State of Safety Hazards in the Crane Industry, a report published this year by the National Safety Council and the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Officers (NCCCO) Foundation, various operators surveyed across the country responded that the top three hazardous situations they’re likely to encounter on the job involve loading and unloading (89%), vehicle pedestrian interactions (64%) and working at height (55%).

The U.S Bureau of Statistics began tracking fatal work injuries in 1992. Crane-related fatalities are down from an average of 78 deaths per year in 1992 to 42 deaths per year in 2017. Although OSHA doesn’t track crane-specific worker deaths year-over-year, worker deaths in general have declined from 38 per day in 1970 to 15 per day in 2022. Part of Crane Tech’s ‘key training elements’ involve recognition of site hazards and technical knowledge of regulatory requirements that are poised to prevent injuries and fatalities on the job. 

Not always easy

Multiple generations of people trying to run a family and a company is bound to experience tension points. “We do argue, but we thrash it out and figure it out,” says Lou, “We all want the same thing. You know, we have different ideas about how to achieve what we want to achieve with a company and we're all hard headed. And sometimes it gets a little loud. And then we settle down and work it out and move forward.”

In a conversation with the Colliers, Ethan described a dinner with his brother Alex, who also works for Crane Tech supporting the sales team and curriculum refinement. “Alex and I sat there and talked work most of the time,” Ethan recalled, “But it's not a chore at all. Every conversation is ‘How do we continue to grow? How do we improve? How do we make this situation better?’ We know that at the root of all those conversations is us as a company succeeding.”

Bo and Ethan Collier oversee Brandon-based Crane Tech, which has some 30 employees.
Photo by Mark Wemple

Keeping the company going remains the number one priority for the Colliers, and that involves keeping tabs on external issues in addition to the internal. At one point, Crane Tech’s biggest client was the U.S Navy, and one day the military decided to take all of its training in house. The Colliers shifted by diversifying the type of training they offer.

When people think of cranes, “They think of construction. They think of new high rises, they think of all those things. But cranes are everywhere. You will have to move things everywhere in every industry,” Lou says. 

One unexpected use of cranes? Manatees at ZooTampa at Lowry Park. “They needed to learn how to run a crane to move their manatees,” Bo says. Other notable moments have included lifting the jawbone of a blue whale for the Smithsonian and training Georgia Pacific employees to use cranes to lift all the toilet paper they produced for the shortage during Covid. 

Confidence is high

Bo is currently in the process of handing the business baton off to Ethan. Of his son’s leadership, he says, “Ethan is doing a fantastic job of doing day-to-day, running day-to-day. He's a kinder, gentler soul. You know, I was drafted into the Army and so my take sometimes on getting the job done is a little different than his, but we manage to coexist pretty well. As I transition away from the company, I tell him all the time, I have so much confidence.” 

Ethan’s goals for the future of Crane Tech are digitally savvy. He’s currently developing a digital portal for the ‘Train the Trainer’ program. “I didn’t reinvent the wheel,” he says, “I just made it shinier.” 

He also has hopes of keeping Crane Tech in the family. Siblings Alex and Anna have roles at the company and there are half-a-dozen grandchildren that could potentially take the helm down the road. He stresses that it’s about picking the next right one, whether that’s one of his children or a niece or nephew. “I heard the phrase many years ago…’whatever is best for Crane Tech is going to happen to Crane Tech.’ So, whatever will sustain us and we think at the time is the right decision.” 



Laura Lyon

Laura Lyon is the Business Observer's editor for the Tampa Bay region, covering business news in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties. She has a journalism degree from American University in Washington, D.C. Prior to the Business Observer, she worked in many storytelling capacities as a photographer and writer for various publications and brands.

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