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HSE cutbacks send wrong message on safety

Accidents involving tower cranes are getting all the headlines but the real issue lies with a lack of inspectors. By Colin Wood

Last year was another difficult one for the users and providers of tower cranes. A normally extremely safe sector of the industry has had further serious, high-profile accidents during the past 12 months.

While the public and the trade press understandably react to incidents involving these highly visible machines, there is a danger that many other serious safety issues are not being given the same high profile.

In the last reporting period, there were 23 fatalities caused by falls from height. A further 16 fatalities were caused by moving, flying or falling objects and 10 were caused by contact with electricity.

There were five fatalities caused by moving vehicles on site, and five people were drowned or asphyxiated. In all, 77 people were killed in the construction industry in that period.

Public inquiries

There have been calls for public inquiries into specific incidents, but whilst serious investigation by the Health and Safety Executive is vital, prolonged public inquiries could be considered a waste of a valuable resource.

By their very nature, inquiries of this nature are costly and seem to take forever. The result is often a generic summary of the issues overseen by people who are not specialists in the field.

The Government on the one hand chastises the construction industry for its recent poor accident record and yet at the same time it approves a 10 per cent reduction in the budget of the already stretched HSE. This is not joined-up government.

The HSE needs more inspectors in the field and, in particular, more specialist technical inspectors who understand what they are looking at.

More site inspections

This would speed up the accident investigation process, which would be of real benefit to the families of the people killed or injured at work.

It would also enable more site visits to be carried out, particularly on the small to medium-sized sites.

The CPA, through its Tower Crane Interest Group, has been working to create best practice procedures for the tower crane owners, the contractors who use the cranes and the operators who control them.

We are working closely with the HSE, the Strategic Forum, ConstructionSkills, safety inspectors body Safed and the United Crane Operators’ Association to get the right messages out there. This is the way forward, not cutbacks.

Colin Wood is the chief executive of the Construction Plant-hire Association