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March 6, 2009

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Employee killed by falling excavator bucket

An inadequately-planned lifting operation had fatal consequences when

an excavator bucket fell off a metal bar and struck a construction


John Walsh, an experienced carpenter, was working as site supervisor and banksman on a site in Wood Green, London, where a nine-storey building was under construction for Metropolitan Home Ownership. He was working for P Colohan and Co, a subcontractor responsible for preparing a concrete frame for the building.

On 6 May 2004, four excavator buckets were being lifted by a crane, for transfer to another site. A reinforced metal bar, which was attached to the crane hook via two chains, had been threaded through the holes on top of two of the four buckets. A chain was also hitched to the attachment pins of the other two buckets, enabling all four buckets to be lifted at once.

Mr Walsh gave a hand signal and radio instruction to the crane driver to lift the weight, which amounted to about 550kg. Workers on the first-floor level reported that the load was hoisted some three to six metres. As the buckets were lifted, the chains were jerking from side to side, and the largest bucket was raised higher than the others because the reinforced bar was not level. This bucket then came loose and fell off the bar, striking Mr Walsh, who died from fatal head injuries.

The HSE investigation revealed that the lifting operation had not been properly planned, or executed. The subcontractor had failed to provide any specific risk assessment, or method statements for the operation.

HSE inspector Simon Hester told SHP: “The failure was in the use of the re-bar as lifting equipment. Re-bar is not lifting equipment in any sense. There are all sorts of other methods that could have been used.”

The company also failed to take sufficient steps to ensure that Mr Walsh was qualified to carry out this work. Inspector Hester explained: “He had attended a half-day course, three years earlier. But the industry standard would expect refresher courses every three years, at least. So he had been trained but he hadn’t had a refresher course, and the company wasn’t really on top of this.”

The inspector added that the case had taken a long time to reach a conclusion because it had been very thoroughly investigated by both the Police and the HSE, and there had been a long delay before the coroner’s inquest. A first prosecution hearing eventually took place on 23 July last year, at City of London Magistrates’ Court, where P Colohan pleaded guilty to a breach of reg. 8(1)(c) of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).

On 27 February 2009 the company was later fined £66,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40,950 at the Old Bailey. In mitigation, it said it had a good health and safety record and had believed Mr Walsh was competent. It also accepted responsibility for the incident.

Summing up the case, inspector Hester warned: “The use of cranes for everyday work on construction sites is so common that it is easy to succumb to complacency. But complacency can lead to terrible results. The LOLER are very specific, and any employer using cranes should review their management of these high-risk lifting operations, particularly the competence of lift supervisors, slingers, and banksmen.”


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