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March 3, 2011

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Warehouse workers’ lucky escape in crane-girder plunge

A 15-metre steel girder crashed on to a warehouse office and narrowly missed a group of workers because the slings being used to lift it had not been properly configured.

Sitting on 28 February, Newcastle magistrates heard that the crane runway – a monorail girder on which three crane hoists could be mounted to travel along it – was being removed by workers at a warehouse belonging to Siemens Energy Services, in Shields Road, Newcastle.

Lifting specialist and crane manufacturer, Konecranes UK Ltd, had been contracted to move the overhead runway from one end of the warehouse to the other. To do so, the workers attached slings to the structure but these failed, causing the beam to plunge 14 metres to the ground, just missing the workers and destroying a warehouse office, which was, fortunately, unoccupied at the time.

HSE inspector Andrew Woodhall explained to SHP: “The slings failed because they were cut at the soft loop end. The weight of the load was underestimated so the slings were configured incorrectly. When the load was applied, it looks like the slings slid around the portal beam. They weren’t packed properly and there were no protective caps used. As the beam turned round, friction caused the slings to be cut.”

Konecranes UK Ltd, of West Bromwich, pleaded guilty to breaching reg.8(1)(c) of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 for failing to ensure that the lift was carried out in a safe manner. It was fined £8000 and ordered to pay costs of £7529.

In its defence, it said it had a history of more than a hundred years of safe lifting operations and that, since this incident, it has invested significantly in technical and health and safety training for its operatives to ensure such an event does not happen again.

Concluded inspector Woodhall: “This was an entirely preventable incident with the real potential to cause serious injury, or even death. That Konecranes UK ignored the legal requirement for lifting operations to be planned properly and carried out in a safe manner is unacceptable. The Konecranes operatives had no advance warning of the failure of the slings and, as it happened, they had a narrow and lucky escape.”

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No advance warning of the failure of the slings? Perhaps not, but anyone who was properly trained as a slinger should not have made such basic mistakes. Underestimating the weight of the load, incorrect use of slings, failing to protect the slings from sharp edges etc are not the actions of trained and competent personnel. Total fines and costs <16K, but had the falling bean hit and killed someone it would have been a very different story.