At a time of life when others may be anticipating their retirement, 64-year-old Bill Frost is taking on new challenges and planning only expansion.
Owner and managing director of Bronzeshield Lifting – based in Crayford, Kent – Mr Frost was, earlier this year, elected chairman of the Construction Plant-hire Association’s Crane Interest Group.
He has no complaints about the business outlook. The house building sector may have collapsed but this is not a core market for crane hire companies like Bronzeshield.
“We are finding the market in mainstream construction still quite good,” he says. “We’re holding our own and getting 80 per cent utilisation on our medium to large cranes (80-tonne class and above),” he says.
While Bronzeshield has always been in the crane business, it did not start out in mobile cranes. Bill Frost, an electrical engineer by trade, set up his own business servicing and repairing overhead travelling cranes in the early 1970s when the Norwegian company that had previously employed him closed its London operation.
Bronzeshield Crane Services was set up in 1976 when the time came to move from being a sole trader to a limited company. His sole trading name, WM Frost, was taken as a limited company, so the name Bronzeshield was chosen.
That same year he bought his first mobile crane, a 12-tonne Coles that he himself operated, to install overhead cranes. The overhead crane installation and servicing business grew, with a lot of work for steel companies.
The mobile crane fleet grew to five machines on the back of a contract – on a site that is now London City Airport – to develop a berth for a large scrap handling company to discharge scrap onto ships using an old dock crane. When that job came to an end in 1985, the crane hire market was coming out of recession and Bronzeshield Lifting was set up as a hire operation.
Bill Frost is clear about the issue at the top of his agenda as CPA Crane Interest Group chairman. He says that too many customers do not understand the limits of the crane hire companies’ responsibilities.
The introduction of CPA terms and conditions for a contract lift, as an alternative to the terms and conditions for straight hire, have helped, but further clarification is still required, says Mr Frost.
Under a straight hire, the customer is responsible for the lift, which means he supplies the appointed person, carries out the risk assessment and method statement, and retains much greater legal liability.
A contract lift, by contrast, is closer to a subcontract than a plant hire arrangement. The crane hire company does more than just supply a crane: it supplies the appointed person and carries out the risk assessment and method statement. It sounds clear cut, but in practice is often not.
“There’s still an issue out there,” says Mr Frost, “that the customer looks upon the crane hire company to be in total control of all the conditions around the lift. Ground conditions, site access, site preparation – customers assume this is all within the contract price.
“When a crane company is asked to carry out a contract lift, we visit the site to look at conditions and assess risks. We then advise the customer on potential hazards.
Invariably we are told that they think it’s our responsibility because it’s a contract lift.”
Confusion also arises about roles and responsibilities under straight hire contracts, he says. “When our crane arrives on site, some customers think that because the cranes are termed ‘all terrain’ they do not have to prepare any solid base for the crane to stand on. They still act as if those conditions are not their responsibility.”
Mr Frost’s plan, working through the CPA and with the Health & Safety Executive, is to make hirers more aware of their role. He says: “We want every crane hire company to make their customers more aware of their responsibility.”