Tower Cranes Hit by Bad Weather Bring Health and Safety Issues to the Forefront Once More


In a recent article, the competence of crane operators was discussed – the responsibility in the UK, as cited by the HSE, is firmly placed between the crane owner and hirer to ensure that the equipment and machinery is used in a safe and responsible manner. In the past 12 years in the UK there have been around 60 accidents that involved tower cranes and over 30 people have been seriously injured. Recent bad weather in the UK has brought Health and Safety in crane operations to the forefront once more. The latest incidents at the end of October saw two tower cranes in and around London to collapse as the South East of the country was battered by high winds. These most recent collapses are on the back of the high profile tragic accident that happened in Vauxhall, London, earlier this year. A helicopter collided with the top of a tower crane causing the crane to collapse and surrounding buildings catching fire which resulted in two fatalities – the helicopter pilot and a passer-by on the ground.

Whilst it is not being suggested that these incidents is any fault of the crane hire operators – they are all either due to acts of nature or truly unfortunate accidents – they do however illustrate once more the need for the highest levels of Health and Safety within the industry as a whole. Making sure that tower cranes are properly erected, maintained and operated is key for the reputation and future growth within the sector. These incidents also show the need to have the right level of insurance coverage for the operation that you are carrying out. In the UK there is no legal requirement to hold public liability insurance (although all must have employers liability insurance) when hiring a crane, but, in practice it would seem completely unprofessional to operate any form of construction related business without ensuring that yourselves, your workers and the public have the comprehensive cover that it can offer you.

Tower crane register scrapped

These accidents also come against the backdrop of the recent news in the UK that the relatively newly introduced crane regulations, to monitor tower cranes use on construction sites, have been scrapped. Safety campaigners have slammed the idea – the regulations were brought in only two years ago after a series of accidents in which a number of people had been seriously injured. The British Parliament had urged the Health and Safety Executive to propose new measures to improve the use of tower cranes, increase safety and introduce a tower crane register.

This register was made up of a number of specific details such as the name and address of the crane owner, information to identify that crane, the address of the site and the date that is was last given a full examination. Deciding to scrap the register is one of the measures suggested by Professor Lofstedt from Kings College who was appointed to make recommendations on how the UK Government could cut unnecessary business regulation; the regulation was withdrawn on the 6th April.

Some, such as Tim Watson from the Construction Plant Hire Association and a crane safety consultant, have welcomed the move saying that it will not compromise safety. He argues that all the necessary inspections are carried out by the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulation 1998 and that awareness of crane safety has increased enormously over recent years with campaigns such as the Safe Crane Campaign.

Short-sighted withdrawal

Others however have a different view and are concerned that the register provided a way for employers, owners and hirers to provide evidence that they were following all the rules and regulations. Tony O’Brien from the UK’s Construction Safety Campaign believes the withdrawal is short sighted and over thirty UK MP’s agreed with him signing a petition against scrapping the regulations. They argue that the rules had only been in operation for a short time and needed longer to bed in.

Health and Safety has been a high priority for the tower crane industry for a number of years and it would seem that it is an issue that’s not going anywhere for the moment. The need for strong regulation and responsible usage is clear – whether the accidents are a product of nature, human error or mechanical problems as an industry there is a need and a desire for them to become less prevalent – making a safer working environment for all.

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