How safe are crane operations in the UK?

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The crane collapse on the roof of the Cabinet Office in London’s Whitehall during recent storms once again highlights the need for stringent safety measures for all kind of crane structures. Or does it?

The problem with crane and lifting operations is that for the huge majority of times they are in the news, it is due to some sort of accident or mishap. But the truth is that crane operations in the United Kingdom have a superb safety record, so it is a rare even that something goes wrong. And that’s what makes it newsworthy.

crane safety

The Cabinet Office collapse, which is almost certainly being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive, was the result of virtually unprecedented high winds hitting central London, and we’re pretty certain no amount of preparation an battening down would have prevented it. The news headline that the crane industry should be taking from this incident is that there were hundreds of other crane structures in the path of this major storm, all of which survived the impact.

Another high-profile case that grabbed the headlines for several days was the January 2013 Vauxhall accident, in which a helicopter collided with a crane on top of a large building under construction on the south Bank of the Thames in London. This accident claimed two lives – the pilot of the aircraft and an unfortunate passer-by on the ground. But could it have been avoided?

Much has been made of the fact that the accident happened in thick fog, and that the crane itself was not illuminated by warning lamps. However, a closer look at the situation, while the crane did have a requirement for lights, they were only needed for night. The crane was being operated exactly as per its licence, and the building developers could at no way be found at fault. Sadly, this appears to be a tragic accident that nobody could have foreseen.

The HSE has stringent rules for crane safety, meaning that all operations must be properly planned “by a competent person; appropriately supervised; and carried out in a safe manner.”

They say that in the last 12 years, there have been 61 accidents with tower cranes with nine fatalities. These figures, while showing the dangerous nature of the work involved show that safety is taken seriously in the industry which strives to ensure that incidents are kept to a minimum and all risks are taken into account.

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