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Crane fears dominate safety concerns


SAFETY continued to hog the headlines this year as a series of high-profile crane collapses caused the public at large to get nervous about the dangers posed by construction sites.

September proved the bleakest month as a crane driver and a local resident were killed when a BPR 222 tower crane collapsed on a two-storey block of flats at a Barratt site in Battersea, south London. And just weeks later the jib of a Potain MR220 luffing crane failed on a Sir Robert McAlpine job in the City of London. Fears of tower crane safety spread to east Sussex where a mother took her children out of school.

Crane drivers put on pressure through the United Crane Operators Association by demanding 'sell-bydates' on old machines as part of a revamped safety regime to prevent further collapses and put renewed emphasis on the importance of maintenance. The Battersea disaster also spurred local Labour MP Martin Linton to call for a debate into crane safety.

Across the industry as a whole the number of fatalities hit a record low with 59 deaths in the year ending April 2006.

The year has seen courts get tough with offenders with major fines including piling specialist Cementation Foundations (Skanska) being penalised £100,000 following the death of banksman David Clark.

Essex firm Lyons Landfill and company director Francis Michael Lyons were also fined £80,000 each after a self employed lorry driver was electrocuted at a quarry and landfill site.

But HSE data shows the average fine per conviction has dropped to £4,553 in 2005-2006 from £8,296 in 2004-2005.

Publication of the revised Corporate Manslaughter Bill was welcomed by the industry but was too lenient for some because it makes it easier to prosecute companies instead of individuals and fines will replace the threat of a jail sentence.

The HSE and the Health and Safety Commission wrapped up the year with the publication of a consultation document highlighting its plans to merge into one governing body. The aim of the merger is to be a 'stronger voice' for health and safety - let's hope we see the effects in 2007.