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October 1, 2008

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Corus fined after crane operator hit by falling steel

Steel maker Corus has been fined £15,000 after a crane operator was struck by a 1.7-tonne section of steel tubing when it fell off a crane.

Sitting on 19 September, Hartlepool magistrates heard that the incident took place on 27 April 2007 at Corus Tubes’ Hartlepool-based tube mill.

The court was told that square tubes were being fabricated out of 12.5mm-thick steel and then cut to length and stacked up on rafts, which could then be lifted by crane.

Operator, Jonathan Laverick, was standing nearby using a remote-controlled crane with an electro-magnetic attachment to pick up rafts and lift them onto a waiting lorry trailer, before they were driven to the warehouse.

Bruno Porter, the HSE inspector who investigated the case and prosecuted it in court, explained that electro-magnetic bars (bars that are not magnetic until the power is switched on) attach themselves at various points along the tubes so that the crane can lift them.

“Magnetic crane attachments are a good thing because they remove the necessity for workers to climb onto the load and attach chains, so avoiding manual handling and working at height,” the inspector explained.

“However, they do not always keep hold of the load,” he warned. “They can occasionally fail if there is a power cut, if there is a defect in the tube, or if the load becomes snagged on something, as in this case.”

When the crane operator accidentally moved the load in a slightly diagonal direction, one of the seven tubes came into contact with the side of the warehouse, peeled away from the crane’s magnet and fell, hitting the operator.

“He was very lucky to survive, and sustained a broken leg, neck injuries and a punctured lung, which kept him absent from work for nine months,” the inspector noted.

Corus pleaded guilty to a breach of s2(1) of HSWA 1974 by failing to ensure its employees’ safety. As well as a fine, it was ordered to pay the HSE’s full costs of £6248.

In mitigation, Corus said the crane driver had been trained, and the company was not taking short cuts in order to save money. Since the incident, a gantry has been installed, so that crane operation is now undertaken from above the height of the load. Lorry drivers are now prevented from entering the danger zone while a lift is taking place.

The company did have procedures in place that warned against going near or under a load, but inspector Porter said that this was not good enough. “If a 16-metre-long tube five metres up in the air comes down, it can bounce an awful long way, so you would need to be a long way away from it to ensure it is safe,” he explained. “We took the case because there was no safe place to stand while operating the crane.”

The magistrates said the incident could have been much more serious, “if not fatal”. They said Corus could have identified and removed the risk before the incident, and that the cost of doing so was not unreasonable. They added that they were concerned that the incident may have occurred as a result of “common working practices that Corus should have been aware of”.

Inspector Porter concluded: “The problems with magnetic cranes were well known at Corus, and an alternative way of working should have been found to protect both the operator and other workers in the area.”

After the case, a Corus spokesperson commented: “We have made improvements to the work area, re-evaluated our processes and focused on enhancing a culture of safety to ensure that there is no repeat of this accident.

“The health and safety of our employees and contractors is the number-one priority for Corus. We put a lot of effort into creating a safety culture within the organisation, and into improving our processes and procedures, to ensure everyone working on our sites is safe.”

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