A crane hire firm failed to take a tower crane out of service despite a fault being identified moments before it was used to lift a five-tonne load during development work at a college in Hertfordshire.
London Tower Crane Hire and Sales Ltd had been contracted to provide and operate the crane during the construction of an extension building at Hertfordshire Regional College in Turnford, near Cheshunt.
On 3 November 2007, a saddle-jib crane was in position on the site and was inspected by an engineer, who identified that the machine’s upper-hoist limit switch was not working. The switch isolates the winch before when the limit is reached. But the fault was not communicated properly and the crane remained in service.
A few moments later the crane began being used to remove temporary steel formwork from a reinforced concrete lift core, which was under construction at the site. The formwork, which weighed over five tonnes, was being lifted over the top of the lift core. As it was raised the hook block hit the trolley of the crane and became trapped. The crane operator noticed the danger and contacted his colleagues to evacuate the area. He tried to free the hook block but the rope snapped, causing the hook and the load to fall 36 metres to the ground. Nobody was injured by the falling load, which landed on a perimeter fence that was adjacent to a footpath regularly used by students.
The HSE’s investigation identified that the company should have done more to inspect the crane and should have ensured that it was removed from service when the fault was identified. A Prohibition Notice was issued against the firm on the day of the incident, which required the crane to be removed from service until a competent person had inspected it.
London Tower Crane Hire and Sales appeared at Hertford Magistrates’ Court on 16 August and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA and reg. 5(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. It was fined a total of £18,000 and ordered to pay £15,837 in costs.
In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and has subsequently reviewed all of its management systems. It complied with the Prohibition Notice and the crane was returned to service after an inspection and repair work had been completed.
Inspector Norman Macritchie said: “It was a matter of good fortune that noone was injured in this entirely avoidable incident.
“Those undertaking lifting operations have absolute duties to plan, supervise and carry them out safely. Maintenance staff had identified safety-critical faults in the crane yet simple controls needed to prevent use of defective equipment were not implemented. Poor communication and teamwork, together with inadequate supervision, all contributed to this incident.
“This case has important lessons for all those operating lifting equipment and especially tower cranes.”
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