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CONSTRUCTION HEALTH & SAFETY NEWS: 10-14 MARCH 2008

SUMMARY

The News Desk this week includes: a major tower crane incident in the USA; recent construction court cases in which significant fines were imposed; structural collapse in Belfast; mobile plant safety and; news of manslaughter charges laid against a construction plant operator. For Printer friendly document CLICK HERE 

LIFTING OPERATIONS  

Tower crane collapse in New York leaves at least 4 dead – BBC Report

New York Times Report

A tower crane has collapsed onto apartment blocks in New York City killing at least four people and injuring many more, three of the injured are reported to be in a serious condition. A rescue operation is in progress to check for others who may be trapped. The collapse is said to have occurred during operations to extend the crane height.

Comment: These tragic deaths will cause concern to UK tower crane suppliers and users who are currently working with the CPA and HSE to raise public confidence and improve safety following recent fatal and other incidents involving tower cranes. Initial reports suggest that the collapse occurred as the crane mast was being raised in height. This would have involved use of a ‘climbing frame’ to insert an additional section of mast. The reports suggest that a section of  mast or other steelwork being lifted may have fallen and dislodged ties securing the existing mast to the building. This is a critical operation which relies on strictly followed and detailed procedures carried out by an expert crane erection team. Advice  

TEMPORARY TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT

Contractor fined £1/4 million after death of motorcyclist at roadworks

A roadworks contractor has been fined £250,000 following the death of a motorcyclist who crashed into temporary concrete barriers laid across the carriageway. There were no signs or traffic cones to warn drivers of the road closure. The court heard that signs and cones were missing for more than eight weeks despite the contractor working in the area almost every day. 

Comment: In the last five years 12 members of the public have lost their lives in reportable incidents relating to road works activity. Roadworkers have also died although the number of deaths has fallen in the last two years following initiatives by contractors and the Highways Agency. Contractors must thoroughly plan and manage temporary traffic management and the public can make a significant contribution by driving carefully, and within speed limits, through roadworks. Advice

COLLAPSING STRUCTURES

Major collapse injures six on Belfast construction site 

Parts of a six-storey office block under construction have collapsed as concrete was being poured. Some workers were reported as having fallen 10m and a number have been injured, some seriously. It is believed that up to 60 people were working on the site at the time of the accident. 

Comment: Northern Ireland HSE are investigating the incident. Reports that concrete was being poured will no doubt point investigators to the possibility of a falsework collapse. The 1970’s saw a series of significant falsework collapses in the UK although there have been no major failures causing multiple deaths in recent years. HSE has published guidance on the Erection, use and dismantling of falsework and this incident provides a timely reminder to all those involved in falsework design, installation and monitoring. Falsework collapses are low probability events but when they do occur the consequences can be catastrophic. It is wise to regularly review management arrangements and working practices for such high risk activities as control measures can become eroded and less effective over time. Advice  

Builder rescued from collapsing Mosque

A workman has been rescued after a ceiling collapsed at a London Mosque during building work. 

Comment: This is a further example of the increase in the number building collapses in recent months. The potential for multiple fatalities is self-evident. The regulation of structural stability issues is within the remit of both Local Authority Building Control Departments and HSE. It is likely that this rise in incidents may well lead to enforcement initiatives by the regulators in the coming months.      

REFURBISHMENT

Refurbishment specialist contractor defends safety standards in the sector

The HSE report on safety standards in the refurbishment sector has been criticised by some companies who believe the recent ‘blitz’ draws an unfairly bleak picture of the refurbishment sector. The initiative is said to have concentrated only on smaller sites. Advice

Comment: The evidence of poor standards was clear from the HSE inspections. However, the respectable end of the sector do have a good point. HSE initiatives look for the ‘cowboys’ and do not seek out the many refurbishment projects that are managed effectively as a result of significant effort by managers and others. It can be very dispiriting for responsible contractors when a whole sector is dismissed performing poorly. It will be interesting to see the detailed data from HSE when it is published.     

EXCAVATORS 

Excavator operator charged with manslaughter

The operator of an excavator on a construction project has been charged with manslaughter following an incident in which a bucket fell from the excavator and killed a fellow workman on site. 

Comment: This prosecution will have been instituted by the Crown Prosecution Service and not HSE. It is rare for plant operators to be charged with manslaughter. The fall of a bucket from an excavator can be related to the design and use of quick hitch devices. 

Quick hitch devices for excavators

Contract Journal have produced a brief summary of quick hitches and the safety issues surrounding their use. HSE have recently issued a safety alert on the use of quick hitch devices following four fatalities involving semi-automatic quick hitches. A new EU Machinery Directive may prohibit the use of semi-automatic quick hitches on new machines. Advice

Overview of excavators available on the market   

Contract Journal has also produced an overview of the most popular excavators on the market, including reviews and news, links to other websites and directories of suppliers.

Comment: Excavators are an important workhorse on many construction projects. Sadly however, excavators are also one of the most significant causes of plant related fatal injuries in construction. Great care must therefore be exercised in their selection, management and use. The issues that need to be considered include:

  • operator training and competence plus appropriate authorisation and certification;  
  • vision from the operating position which can be improved by use of mirrors and CCTV;
  • means to warn drivers and others including lights and radar proximity devices;
  • work methods that minimise the presence of persons in the vicinity of excavators. It is often a third party that is struck by the excavator bucket or trapped between the excavator and a fixed structure;
  • training, instruction and information for those who are required to work in close proximity and;
  • consideration of the safety of quick hitches devices. See above. Advice

VEHICLE SAFETY  

Loader causes death of 18 year old apprentice bricklayer on homes site 

A major homebuilder has been prosecuted and fined £50k after an 18 year-old apprentice bricklayer was killed when he was struck by a tractor loader used to transport mortar tubs around the site. The tractor loader skidded and the bucket trapped the young bricklayer causing  his death. 

Comment: Safe use of vehicles depends upon provision of a safe vehicle, safe site and safe driver. The project health and safety plan should address all three aspects. Safe site aspects were relevant in this case with the investigating inspector observing that “in the area of the mortar silos there were no physical precautions provided to adequately segregate pedestrians from moving vehicles, such as barriers or vehicle wheel stops. There was also no effective control of the movement of vehicles or pedestrians in the area of the silos”. Advice  

LEGAL CORNER

Prosecutions added to the HSE database this week  

The above link finds prosecutions taken by HSE Construction Division that have been added to the database this week. Only 1 (one) case was added this week which covers the New Year period 2007/08.    

Enforcement notices added to HSE database in the last two weeks

The above link finds prohibition and improvement notices issued by HSE Construction Division that have been added to the database in the last two weeks which covers the period 23 December 2007 to 7 January 2008.

Fine for fatal fall upheld by appeal court

The Court of Appeal has turn down a company appeal against a fine of £260,000 after an employee died when he fell during construction work. The incident involved a 22 year old man who fell 10m after leaning on an unsecured handrail. HSE welcomed the decision.

WEB LIBRARY

New links are added to our Web Library each week thereby increasing the range and depth of topics covered. Just click on Newest Links to view the last 20 links added to the library. The entire Web Library can be explored using the search facility.   

OTHER NEWS

China alleged to have ‘hushed up’ Olympic construction deaths

Explosives bring down 1960’s tower block

Earthquake effects repaired after risk assessment 

AND FINALLY… 

Runaway excavator drops in for a pint!  

I hope you find our News Desk helpful and informative. Your feedback on the content and format is always much appreciated. On the right hand side of this web page you can sign up for an email reminder alerting you whenever the News Desk is updated

Best wishes

Philip Poynter

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