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Working group to tackle quick hitch excavator safety problems

An influential working group is to look at safety problems associated with semi-automatic quick hitches.

The Strategic Forum’s new plant working group has revealed its first priority will be to tackle the safety problems of semi-automatic quick hitches on excavators.

Construction Plant Hire Association chief executive Colin Wood, who is to chair the new working group, said training methods and manufacturers would be strongly targeted.

The news comes a week after a London worker was killed in a machinery-related incident on the Skanska/Grantrail Docklands Light Railway site.

It is understood Health and Safety Executive inspectors are closely reviewing the plant being used on site after 58-year-old Harold Sheridan was “crushed by machinery”.

It is thought that the Luton man’s death may have been caused by the excavator’s quick hitch not being fitted correctly.

British Transport Police said they were still investigating the death. A 60-year-old man has been arrested and bailed until mid January.

Mr Wood, who said his decision to focus on quick hitches was based on their long-standing problems with safety, said: “Readdressing this will definitely be our first port of call. We may need to again look at how we get the message across.”

Mr Wood said the new group would cover all plant safety and build on the work of the tower crane group, which launched the national Safe Crane Campaign and HSE-endorsed best practice guidance.

The HSE’s outgoing chief construction inspector Stephen Williams said he was “very disappointed” at the recent string of fatalities on major contractor sites, including projects being run by Laing O’Rourke and Bouygues.

He added: “We are very disappointed to hear of any fatality. Our wishes and condolences go out to all those who lost loved ones. It is particularly disappointing against what had been until recently some 25 per cent under [the number of fatalities at the same time last year].”

But he refused to comment any further, saying the cases were still under investigation. It is hoped the launch of a Government-led inquiry into construction safety as well as the release of the HSE’s new five-year strategy will help stem the number of workers being killed on UK sites.

Work on the Government inquiry is expected to begin with vigour in the new year after former chair of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services group Rita Donaghy was appointed to head the board.

Chair of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s construction group John Lacey said the inquiry was “essential to find out why so many construction workers are losing their lives just doing their job”.

He said: “Rita Donaghy has a crucial role in leading this investigation and gathering the vital information needed to improve safety standards in the construction industry.”

The announcement was met with “some reservations” by construction union Ucatt, which said Ms Donaghy lacked a background in health and safety, construction or a similar hazardous industry.

It said, however, it would be producing evidence about “how the casualised nature of the industry leads to low safety standards and causes accidents”.

Ms Donaghy said: “I am keen to get started and work with the trade unions, the industry and the Health and Safety Executive to see what lessons we learn from the root causes of construction accidents so that we can improve the health and safety of construction workers.”

It is understood the board leading the inquiry will publish a report in late spring 2009.

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