Unite has said it is “alarming” that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) does not keep track of the number of investigations it carries out involving cranes.
In December, Construction News reported on calls for the re-establishment of the national crane register in the wake of a number of site incidents involving tower cranes.
These included a crane collapsing onto a block of flats in Edinburgh in November (pictured), another that killed 85-year-old June Harvey in east London in July 2020, and a 2017 incident in which three workers – Rhys Barker, 18, David Newall, 36, and David Webb, 43 – were killed in Crewe.
Since then, a crane collapsed on 12 January at a housing development on the former Central Middlesex Hospital in west London.
Despite the high-profile incidents, the HSE said it was unable to tell CN how many investigations and prosecutions it has carried out in relation to cranes in the past decade.
It said this is because its reporting under RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) does not include a specific category for the machines.
Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “The increasing number of crane accidents will send a shiver through all construction workers – a crane collapse can have catastrophic consequences.
“It is alarming but unsurprising that the HSE doesn’t directly monitor crane safety.”
He added: “The HSE had a tower-crane register, which was introduced to help ensure safety following several high-profile crane collapses that resulted in substantial loss of life. However, the tower-crane register was abolished by the Conservative-led government after 2010, in its attack on health-and-safety legislation.”
The national crane register was set up in 2010, four years after a tower-crane collapse at Battersea, south London, killed two people.
It made it a legal requirement to notify the HSE if a tower crane was in use on a site and mandated a full inspection of the machine after installation and prior to its use.
The register and inspection requirements were scrapped in 2012 following a review of regulations. The HSE said the register was only consulted four times in its existence.
Helen Clifford, a solicitor who represents several victims of crane-safety issues, including June Harvey’s relatives, said: “In light of the recent spate of incidents involving cranes it is of real concern that the HSE does not keep records of these incidents.
“These are happening against a backdrop of deregulation by Tory governments since 2010, which promised to destroy health-and-safety regulation, repealed some crane regulations, and slashed the budget of the HSE by 60 per cent so that enforcement of the law, scrutiny and checking up on employers has been massively reduced. It is time that this was reversed and crane regulations were reinstated.”
On how it monitors the safety of cranes, an HSE spokesperson said: “In addition to the work carried out by our inspectors, we work closely with industry to monitor the performance of the lifting industry with the aim of improving standards and reducing incidents.”
He said health-and-safety matters, including those not reportable under RIDDOR rules, are discussed with industry interest groups.
All lifting operations must be properly planned by a competent person; appropriately supervised; and carried out in a safe manner, under safety laws.
A spokesperson for the Construction Plant-hire Association said it produces a range of free publications and that its members discuss best practice at forums.
“Mobile and tower-crane interest-group members continually strive to attain and maintain safety standards and in which are carried out safely in comparison to the vast number of lifting operations using cranes that occur on a daily basis,” he added.