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    Safety-critical steel bolt connections not suitably installed and maintained

    McCarthy & Stone Retirement Lifestyles Ltd been ordered to pay a total of £97,681 after residents near a construction project were evacuated after 45 metre tower crane jib collapsed in December 2011 in Saffron Walden, Essex.

    Chelmsford Crown Court heard the company team of crane tower crane erectors were carrying out a test lift when the lifting rope broke, causing a heavy block and seven tonne test load to fall onto a trailer below. No one was injured but witnesses described how the crane and jib recoiled violently, bucking back and forth. A new lifting rope was installed and the crane remained unused pending the delivery of a new “load indicator” rope.

    However, two days before Christmas the crane jib collapsed causing the 280kg hook block to swing and fall outside the boundary of the construction site. The steel block broke in two, partly demolishing a garage and fence belonging to a neighbouring developer. The bent jib was left hanging vertically from the top of the tower crane. The sites were closed for the Christmas break and no one was injured.

    Emergency services evacuated 30-40 residents from nearby homes while the area was made safe. Those evacuated were able to return home for Christmas Day.

    Earlier incident damage should have been dentified and repaired

    HSE found that:

    • safety-critical steel bolt connections had not been suitably installed and maintained in jib;
    • correct pre-tension torque was not applied to tighten these vital components;
    • a suitable lubrication regime was not implemented; and
    • the crane had been subjected to damage in the first incident, when the lifting rope failed.

    The company could have ensured that a thorough mechanical examination of the crane was carried out failed to do so. HSE state that “little more than a visual examination” was carried out and the crane later collapsed after the connecting components in the lower jib failed in tension.

    McCarthy & Stone Retirement Lifestyles Ltd, of Homelife House, Oxford Road, Bournemouth, was fined a total of £50,000 including a victim surcharge and ordered to pay £47,681 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 2 and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 at an earlier hearing.

    Speaking after the sentencing hearing HSE Principal Inspector Norman Macritchie, said:

    “It is only by good fortune that no one was injured or killed in these incidents. The jib collapse may have been avoided had the company identified and repaired any damage caused by the earlier incident when the lifting rope broke.

    Tower cranes are among the larger, more complex, items of plant used in construction and routinely move heavy loads at considerable height.

    Those who install lifting equipment and those who plan, organise and carry out lifting operations must ensure that these activities are carried out safely – the public is entitled to expect nothing less.

    My thanks go to the emergency services and members of the public for their assistance in this investigation.”

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