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TOWER CRANE COLLAPSE TRIGGERED BY FOUNDATION ERRORS

Catastrophic event avoided multiple fatalities by ‘pure chance’

Bowmer and Kirkland Ltd and Bingham Davis Ltd have been sentenced following the collapse of a tower crane in Liverpool city centre resulting in the crane driver being paralysed from the waist down. The crane was being used in construction of an eight-storey hotel and seven apartment blocks at Kings Dock Mill when it overturned on 6 July 2009.

A picture showing the damage the crane has caused. Picture by SparklemediaLiverpool Crown Court heard how the crane collapsed onto a partially constructed apartment block, across a road coming to rest on occupied apartments. Eight crane counterweights (56 tonnes) crashed through the roof and travelled six floors down into the building.

Crane driver Iain Gillham, aged 55, fell from the crane cab onto the roof of the apartments and through the hole created by the counterweights. He suffered multiple injuries including a brain haemorrhage and spinal injuries which resulted in his legs being paralysed.

There were no injuries to residents who were evacuated from the apartments. Some residents were rescued from their balconies and damage to the building was extensive. Residents were unable to return to their homes for nearly two years.

Foundations unable to cope with the forces involved

During construction of the crane foundation the defendants agreed to cut away steel reinforcement bars (rebar) from four concrete foundation piles to enable the crane feet to rest on the piles. The rebar was replaced with four steel rods in each pile.

Judge Gilmour said he was satisfied that removal of the reinforcing steel and replacement with steel rods resulted in the foundation being unable to cope with the forces of the crane. This led to the foundation being overloaded and the crane collapsing. Judge Gilmour added that the errors were a result of “haste” and not cost-cutting.

The HSE investigating inspector Warren Pennington said:

“HSE hopes this case sends a clear message to the construction industry in relation to tower cranes foundations.

Designers of such should be familiar with industry accepted guidance and follow it, unless they have extremely well thought-out reasons for not doing so.

The role of the Principal Contractor is also crucial in managing the design process. Both Principal Contractors and Designers should ensure that robust systems for design checking are actioned at all times.”

Disastrous errors that were entirely preventable

Bingham Davis Ltd, formerly of Temple Street in Liverpool, has ceased trading since the crane collapse. The company was fined a nominal £1,000. Judge Gilmore said that Bingham Davis would have faced a £400,000 fine were the business not now in liquidation and without assets.

Bowmer and Kirkland Ltd, of Heage, Derbyshire, was fined £280,000. A decision on prosecution costs will be made separately. The company has issued a statement saying: 

“We extend our sympathies to Iain Gilham who most regrettably suffered serious injury as a result of this incident and to Iain’s family and any others who were affected. Bowmer and Kirkland recognise the seriousness of the incident and the verdict reached by the court.

This was an isolated incident and we take our responsibility for health and safety very seriously. We maintain investment in continuous improvement of our quality and health & safety systems, together with staff training and are committed to ensuring an incident like this can never be allowed to happen again.”

HSE inspector Warren Pennington added:

“Serious failings were uncovered during an extensive and complex investigation into the crane collapse. Iain Gillman will be unable to walk for the rest of his life as a result and it was only by pure chance that this catastrophic event did not result in multiple fatalities.

The circumstances leading to the collapse were a mess. Bingham Davis employees had no previous experience of designing the type of crane foundation and Bowmer & Kirkland’s employees at Kings Dock Mill had no experience of building one. Both parties made disastrous errors that were entirely preventable.

Bingham Davis Ltd failed to spot a basic mistake in its calculations for the loadings imposed by the crane which had the potential for a crane foundation being constructed that was not strong enough. The company advised Bowmer and Kirkland to cut away essential steel reinforcing bars in the foundation piles and replace such with steel rods.

Removal of the reinforcing steel resulted in the foundation being too weak to support the crane. The foundation was further weakened when Bowmer and Kirkland failed to ensure the adequate insertion of the replacement steel rods. Neither Company did enough to check what the result would be of cutting away this essential steel reinforcement and replacing such with steel rods.”

Comment

HSE point out that over the past decade, nine people have died and there have been 25 serious injuries as a result of incidents involving tower cranes.

The Safe Crane Campaign was instigated by the UK construction industry in 2008 to ensure that tower cranes on UK construction sites are safely erected, maintained, operated and dismantled. A range of best practice guidance is in place to drive forward improvements in the tower crane safety.

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