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November 26, 2009

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HSE sticks to its guns on crane register coverage

The HSE has disregarded calls from safety stakeholders to extend the

coverage of its forthcoming crane register to include self-erecting and

mobile cranes.

Detailed recommendations for a statutory tower-crane register were agreed yesterday (25 November) by the HSE board, following a three-month consultation. Due to come into force in April next year, the proposals cover conventional tower cranes on construction sites and will now be put to ministers for approval. Once ratified, the HSE will send out information to all duty-holders.

The proposals will:

  • require employers who use ‘conventional’ tower cranes (those assembled in situ) on construction sites to send the HSE information about the crane (see below);
  • require notification of information within 14 days of thorough examination of the crane;
  • require cranes already erected when the regulations come into force to be registered within 28 days; and
  • allow electronic notification via the HSE website.

Details that should be notified to the HSE include: the site address where the tower crane is being used; the name and address of the crane owners; the date of the crane’s examination and details of the employer for whom the examination was carried out; and whether any defects posing a risk of serious injury were detected. All notified details would be contained in a publicly-available register, and registrations would carry an administration fee of £20.

According to the HSE, around 1800 conventional tower cranes are thought to be operated in Britain, with around 1300 in use at any one time. But the decision to exclude certain cranes will anger some of the safety community.

Safety pressure body the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group has been one of the leading proponents of a move to register cranes. Submitting evidence to last year’s Work and Pensions Select Committee’s inquiry into the HSE, it said a register would save the HSE time and cost: “In the UK currently, in some investigations and prosecutions by the HSE, identifying the ownership of the crane is a key element of the investigation.” It also argued that an open, transparent register of cranes, as well as other types of plant, would allow trade unions, employee safety reps, contractors, and other stakeholders to identify when equipment on a construction site had undergone an inspection.

Safety maintenance advisor Scafftag believes the register is a good idea in principle but is no ‘silver bullet’, and the feedback it has received from its customers indicates that self-erecting and mobile cranes also have significant accident rates.

The company’s business manager, Jonathan Edwin, elaborated: “The HSE is proposing an investment [into the running the register] of £450,000 over ten years, funded by a charge of £20 per crane for each registration. The HSE estimates that investment would rise to £3.2m over ten years if the register is extended to other crane types.

“Focusing solely on conventional tower cranes will only tackle part of the problem. Surely this is an important issue and one that deserves the more substantial investment the HSE mentions so that the entire issue can be addressed.”

He also lamented the lack of attention being paid to the competency of crane operators. “These are skilled and knowledgeable individuals, and regular re-training on safety practices could confirm their competency at all times. A register of operators may be as vital as one on the actual cranes.”

Edwin’s remarks on the register’s coverage are similar to those of UCATT, the construction union. Its general secretary Alan Ritchie said: “UCATT would have liked the register to be more extensive and for the registration period to have been shorter. However, the key issue was ensuring a statutory register was established. The operation of the register will be reviewed in the future and at that point we will seek to widen its scope.”

Since 2000, eight people have been killed and several more seriously injured in incidents involving tower cranes. HSE chief inspector of construction, Philip White, said: “There has been a number of high-profile and tragic failures of tower cranes in recent years and there is widespread interest in finding ways to improve safety. The public consultation has helped us to develop a proportionate response to an established risk.

“We have learnt a great deal from recent incidents and are working together with hirers, suppliers, manufacturers and stakeholders to ensure that anything we have learnt is acted upon.”

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