Tower trouble

25 March 2008

The safe use of tower cranes is in the spotlight in the UK after three luffing jib tower crane collapses in the space of a few months.

In September last year a tower crane operator and a member of the public were both killed when a tower crane collapsed on a residential construction project in the London suburb of Battersea. This was followed only a few weeks later when a collision between two tower cranes caused one of their luffing jibs to collapse, bringing work on the central London site to a standstill. January this year saw further tragedy when a site worker was killed and a crane operator seriously injured when a crane collapsed on a site in Liverpool.

The use of tower cranes in the UK was last under this much scrutiny following the collapse of a luffing tower crane on the Canary Wharf development in East London in May 2000. The crane was being self-climbed at the time when the entire jib and cab assembly fell off the climbing frame, killing three of the five workers adding tower sections.

While there shouldn't be accidents when cranes are self-climbing, it is acknowledged that this is one of the more high risk aspects of operating tower cranes. However, the more recent accidents occurred during apparently straight-forward operations, raising serious questions about safety standards in the sector. Questions have been raised about whether tower cranes are being inspected as regularly as they should be, and whether the inspections that take place are detailed enough.

The UK's Health & Safety Executive, the Government body responsible for policing workplace safety, is now drafting a crane safety guide in cooperation with the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA).

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