A crane operator was left paralysed and residents had to be evacuated when a crane collapsed and fell on to a city centre apartment block in Liverpool.
A 79m-high tower crane was being used as part of a multi-million pound project to build a new eight-storey hotel and seven apartment blocks at Kings Dock Mill on Tabley Street, when it overturned on 6 July 2009.
Liverpool Crown Court heard that the site’s principal contractor, Bowmer and Kirkland Ltd, had sub-contracted structural engineering company Bingham Davis Ltd to design the foundations to support the crane.
Bingham Davis’ design required the feet of the crane to be held in place by concrete foundation piles. But during the construction of the foundations Bowmer and Kirkland became concerned about placing the crane’s feet on top of a steel reinforcement bar, also known as a dywidag bar.
The company raised this concern during a telephone conversation with Bingham Davis and it was agreed to cut away the dywidag bars from the four concrete foundation piles. These were replaced by up to five dowels in each pile, which reduced the forces the foundations could withstand.
Thee crane was erected in April 2009, and three months later the tensile forces became too much for the foundations and they gave way, causing the crane to collapse while it was in operation. Eight counterweights on the crane, weighing a total of 56 tonnes, broke free and crashed through the roof and six floors of the building. The crane driver Iain Gillham, 55, fell from the cab on to the roof of the apartments, and through the hole created by the counterweights.
He suffered multiple injuries, including a brain haemorrhage, a fractured skull, broken ribs, crush injuries to his left side and major spinal injuries, which have left him paralysed in both legs.
No one inside the building was injured but residents had to be evacuated from the apartments, and some were rescued from their balconies. The damage to the building was so serious that residents were unable to return to their homes for nearly two years while major reconstruction work took place.
HSE inspector Warren Pennington told SHP that the changes to the design were not put in writing following the phone conversation between the two companies. He described the management of the design change as “atrocious”.
“The circumstances leading to the collapse were a mess,” said inspector Pennington. “Bingham Davis employees had no previous experience of designing the type of crane foundation used at Kings Dock Mill. Likewise, Bowmer and Kirkland’s employees at the site had no experience of building one. Both parties made disastrous errors that were entirely preventable.
“Neither company did enough to check what the result would be of cutting away this essential steel reinforcement and replacing such with steel rods.”
The inspector explained that the original error was made by Bingham Davis Ltd, which failed to spot a basic mistake in its calculations for the loadings imposed by the crane. He also suggested there was a risk that the crane could have overturned even if the dywidag bars had not been removed, as the crane foundations weren’t strong enough to support the crane.
On 9 May, Bowmer and Kirkland was found guilty of breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £280,000, with a decision on costs still to be made. Bingham Davis was also found guilty of breaching s3(1) of the same Act but was only fined £1000, as the company has gone into voluntary liquidation.
Delivering his sentence, Judge Gilmour said he was satisfied that it was the removal of the reinforcing steel and the inadequate replacement of the steel rods that led to the foundation being overloaded and the crane collapsing.
In mitigation, Bingham Davis said it had fully cooperated with the investigation and regretted the incident. It added that it had a good safety record and the incident was not caused by cost-cutting by either company.
After the hearing, a spokesman for Bowmer and Kirkland said: “While this was an isolated incident, and a second tower crane at the Kings Dock Mill site was unaffected, Bowmer and Kirkland recognises the seriousness of the incident and the verdict reached by the court.
“The group takes its responsibility for health and safety very seriously and maintains investment in continuous improvement of its quality and health and safety systems, together with staff training, and is committed to ensuring an incident like this can never be allowed to happen again.”
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