Editor's Comment: Construction machines are not toys

10 May 2013

Chris Sleight, Editor, International Construction

Chris Sleight, Editor, International Construction

It is an unfortunate fact that construction can be a dangerous industry to work in. In the UK for example it employs only 5% of the workforce, but accounted for 22% of all fatal injuries last year, with 49 people killed – and that is in a country where great strides have been taken over the year to reduce fatalities.

There were also 2,230 reported major injuries. Given that the UK represents about 2% of global construction output, it would be fairly safe to project these figures and estimate that there are thousands of construction-related deaths worldwide every year and maybe more than 100,000 serious injuries.

Data from the UK’s Health and Safety Executive show that about half of all fatalities were due to falls from height. Another quarter or so involved being hit by an object or vehicle – many of which would relate to construction equipment, while other causes of death involved some sort of collapse or electrocution.

It is not surprising that deaths and serious injury can occur around equipment. Construction machines are large and heavy, and require skill to operate. Even in the hands of an experienced operator, things can still go wrong, and YouTube is awash with videos of crane tip-overs and other accidents sometimes due to human error, and sometimes other factors such as ground conditions.

Given how crucial it is to use equipment safety, I was surprised to see an exhibitor at Bauma called ‘AirEmotion’ offering to “fly” visitors in harnesses suspended from a self-erecting tower crane. No doubt this was all legal and insured in the strict sense of the law, but what an awful message to send.

First, construction machines are not fairground rides. Part of the attraction of the construction equipment industry may be the “big boys’ toys” factor and I wouldn’t deny that machines can appeal to the child in all of us, but that doesn’t actually mean that they are toys and that people should play with construction machines. They are big, powerful, serious pieces of kit designed for a specific purpose, and that purpose is not to be a circus ride.

Second, the practice of lifting people using cranes is very suspect to say the least. Although it does go on, it should only be done when there is absolutely no alternative. Cranes lack many of the safety features that purpose-built machines such as access platforms have to have by law, and the construction industry would be a lot safer if lifting people using cranes was discouraged (and preferably banned).

Finally, Bauma is meant to be a professional business-to-business trade show. This is not exactly the image projected by this fairground ride, and it was a mistake by the organisers to allow it.

I am not alone in holding these views. The International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), a trade association with a huge focus on safe working at height, also made strong representations to the organisers about this crane “ride."

I hope not to see anything like this at a professional trade show again.

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