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Running a business requires operators to work long hours


Sir, I would like to respond to John Gately over his concerns about our view of crane drivers' working hours ('Long working hours cost lives', Letters, July 21).

I have been in the industry for 40 years, the last four in the capacity as Chief Executive of the Construction Plant-hire Association. I believe the CPA has done more than any other body to further the cause of safety in our industry.

In 1989 it was heavily involved in the creation of the British Standard for the Safe Use of Cranes, and since then it has worked with the Health and Safety Executive on a number of best practice initiatives for the sector.

John Gately makes what he believes to be the logical progression that working longer hours must make people unsafe. He is entitled to his opinion but the fact is, there is no evidence to bear this out.

Crane hire comprises an extremely small percentage of the work carried out and thankfully injuries are few and far between in the industry.

Cranes by their very nature are static on site when operating. People sensibly give them a wide berth and, if the lift has been planned properly, there should be no problems. I am personally not aware of any incident where the tiredness of an operator has been given as the cause of a crane accident.

Crane operators may well work eight hours on site and have to travel to and from the site. But operators do get plenty of waiting time on site between lifts and are not normally working throughout the shift.

The reason the CPA is resisting the removal of the opt-out to the Working Time Directive, along with politicians such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, is that there is already a shortage of experienced crane operators available.

If the opt-out is removed, we will need at least another 20 per cent more crane operators.

This shortage may well force companies to employ inexperienced operators to cover the work. Who is safer, an experienced operator working a few extra hours or an inexperienced operator on 40 hou rs?

We are not asking for crane operators to work unlimited hours, but the 48-hour average is simply not practicable.

The workload is such that we require a certain number of our operators to work longer hours if they wish to. It's called running a business.

Colin Wood, Chief Executive Construction Planthire Association London EC1