Memorandum submitted by the Battersea
Crane Disaster Action Group (BCDAG)
Following the collapse of a crane in Thessaly
Road, Battersea, London on 26 September 2006 where two people
lost their lives, families of the deceased, residents and supporters
formed the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group (BCDAG) in October
2006. The group work to campaign for improved crane safety and
for an end to deaths as a result of crane collapses.
On 26 September 2006, at a Barratts construction
site on Thessaly Road in Battersea, a 50 metre Falcon Crane Hire
Ltd tower crane collapsed onto a block of residential flats killing
the crane driver, Jonathan Cloke, 37, from Guildford and local
man Michael Alexa, 23, who was working on his car in the street
outside his mother's home.
There was a good deal of understandable anger
in the community after the fatalities. Michael Alexa's family
were distraught that his body was left at the scene for five days
before it could be moved safely. Residents, particularly children,
were traumatised by the events. There was also anger because the
Barratts site used to house a well-loved local school, which was
closed by Wandsworth Council in the face of robust local opposition.
The council then sold off the land to Barratts for a development
of mainly luxury homes, which were way out of the financial reach
of local residents.
Battersea and Wandsworth TUC, who have a strong
track record of campaigning on health and safety and in local
communities, set up a public meeting in October 2006 to give families
of the bereaved and residents the opportunity to come together
and raise their concerns. Out of this meeting the Battersea Crane
Disaster Action Group was formed and agreed to hold a further
public meeting to hold Wandsworth Council, Barratts and Falcon
The BCDAG welcomes the opportunity to make a
written submission to the inquiry of the Select Committee. Our
submission will focus on the following:
the lack of a national, publicly
accessible register of cranes;
the inadequate resources available
to the HSE to ensure that proactive inspection and enforcement
of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, Regulations, and the
Code of Practice on Crane Safety are carried out in a context
of a building industry boom, and the 2012 Olympics (in a context
of funding cuts to the HSE);
the increase in deaths in the
construction industry and the recent spate of crane collapses
and near misses;
the public safety issues associated
with poor safety performance in the construction industry; and
the failure of the Strategic
Forum for Construction Tower Crane Group to support initiatives
to increase enforcement and a register of cranes.
The BCDAG believes strongly that a well-funded
HSE, committed to proactive inspection and enforcement of safety
standards in the construction industry, combined with severe penalties
for employers who kill through negligence, is the key to a twin-track
approach that also combines an educative and consultative role
for employees, trade unions and employers to lift standards in
the industry. The lack of will to make this happen comes at the
cost of more dead workers and residents. The question is how many
more people have to be killed before the trend for industry self-regulation
runs its course.
1. National Register of Cranes/Plant
1.1 It is beyond the remit of the BCDAG
to discuss the safety issues associated with plant generally but
our comments relating to cranes can and should be taken further
to include other types of plant such as mobile plant, pressure
vessels, lifts, machinery and equipment and the like. It is astounding
that a modern, advanced industrialised nation such as the UK does
not have a national register of cranes held by the HSE.
1.2 In Australia, a comparable jurisdiction
both in terms of economic fundamentals as well as the evolution
of safety legislation and technical standards, there is a national
register for plant. All tower and mobile cranes are captured by
this register. In the New South Wales jurisdiction, the register
is called up under the NSW OHS Regulation 2001 making it a legal
requirement for all cranes to be registered before they may be
used in any workplace. The registration obligation falls on the
person in control and may include the owner, lessee, importer,
and/or employer. The items to be registered are:
Table Items of plant required
to be registered Boilers categorised as being of hazard level
A, B or C according to the criteria in AS 4343-1999.
Pressure vessels categorised
as being of hazard level A, B or C according to the criteria in
AS 4343-1999 except the following:
(a) LP gas fuel vessels for automotive use
covered by AS/NZS 3509:1996,
(b) serially produced pressure vessels covered
by AS 2971-1987,
(c) pressure vessels that do not require
periodic internal inspection in accordance with the criteria in
Table 4.1 in AS/NZS 3788:1996.
Lifts (including escalators
and moving walkways) as defined in AS 1735 Parts 1 to 17 (as listed
in Schedule 1).
Amusement devices (other than
coin operated amusement devices) that are, or may be, operated
otherwise than by manual power.
Building maintenance units.
Concrete placing units (truck
mounted with boom).
Mobile cranes with a safe working
load greater than 10 tonnes.
1.3 This has a number of advantages. The
first is that the ownership/control of a crane is clear from the
outset for the purposes of inspection, enforcement and prosecution.
Auditing of registered plant by age, design type, origin, or other
factors, including accidents and near misses, can be done by the
regulatory agency allowing targeted intervention and enforcement.
The second is that it avoids a costly waste of resources. In the
UK currently in some investigations and prosecutions by the HSE,
identifying the ownership of the crane is a key element of the
investigation. The third is that trade unions, employee safety
reps, contractors, and other stakeholders can identify on each
construction site if all plant has a registration label affixed
and the date of the last inspection. The fourth is that concerned
residents and community organisations can report concerns regarding
usage of cranes in a locality and be able to receive relevant
information from the regulatory agency. From a community safety
point of view, the BCDAG feel it is imperative for local residents
to be able to access quickly relevant information on cranes working
in their localities.
1.4 The BCDAG finds it hard to understand
why motor vehicles have to be registered on a national database,
with proof of insurance and tax paid before use, and yet 50 metre
tower cranes working next door to schools and houses may have
come in from another country the week before and been assembled
without any process to satisfy the HSE that compliance with safety
standards has been carried out. Finding out after a death or serious
injury is clearly too late. The public safety implications are
no different to someone driving an unregistered car dangerously
past a school.
2. Resources and enforcement
2.1 The evidence is clear that the ability
of the HSE to carry out proactive inspection and enforcement in
the construction industry in order to ensure compliance by legal
duty holders to prevent accidents and deaths is being progressively
scaled back due to lack of adequate funding. Up to 500 jobs have
been lost at the HSE since 2002. The DWP are proposing funding
cuts for the period of 2008-092010-11 in the order of 5%
per year, cumulative to 15-16% over three years.
2.2 The HSE is not meeting current targets
and the expectation must be that further funding cuts will only
reduce the ability of the HSE to carry out proactive inspections
and enforcement activity. The current tightening of funding, with
10% cuts to funding over the past two years, and the drain on
resources created by undertaking prosecutions has seen inspections
of workplaces fall by up to 25% in the past few years. Prosecutions
and notices issued have fallen.
2.3 The (uncorrected Hansard) evidence
by the HSE on 28 November 2007 stating that the number of inspectors
in construction has stayed the same is disingenuous. This is because
there has been a construction boom during the recent period and
so per workplace there are fewer inspectors available, and in
order to maintain the same absolute numbers of inspectors in construction,
the BCDAG understands that inspectors have had to be taken from
other industry sectors resulting in fewer inspectors being available
for proactive work elsewhere. The BCDAG are also astounded that
the HSE have suggested that they have enough resources to carry
out their work.
2.4 The BCDAG understands that there are
15 inspectors available in London for the construction industry.
There are thousands of building sites and hundreds of large commercial
projects at any one time in London so we believe that with such
a small number of inspectors available, and with much of their
time spent on investigation and prosecution after a death or serious
injury, the resources to actually carry out proactive enforcement
in London in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics is miniscule. This
implies that the policy of the HSE is in fact not to prioritise
proactive enforcement of safety which means there will be more
deaths resulting from crane collapses and other causes in the
months and years ahead. The contrast with the proactive enforcement
and safety blitz of the industry in the lead up to the 2000 Sydney
Olympics could not be starker.
2.5 The lack of resources to carry out enforcement
activity is again borne out in the (uncorrected Hansard) evidence
by the HSE on 28 November 2007 where after detailed questioning
the HSE admit that because prosecutions take up so much of inspectors'
time, and due to the funding drain caused by not fully recovering
costs of successful prosecutions, the priority has become one
of consultation and setting targets and changing the culture of
the industry. The problem with this philosophy is that it is clear,
and well known to all who work in the industry, that the simple
economics of the construction industry mean that profits are the
key motivator. Cutting corners, undercutting for contracts, the
use of sub-contracting arrangements, casualised and migrant labour
are the economic factors that underpin the industry. This is why
regulation by statute, government agencies and strong trade unions
has always been necessary around the world in this industry to
lift safety standards.
2.6 There is no economic incentive for employers
and duty holders to comply with safety requirements in an environment
of falling inspections and enforcement activity. This is clear.
There is a financial cost for a successful prosecution but a large
duty holder can absorb it, a small one can go into liquidation,
and the profits made from unsafe practices more than exceed any
penalties levied. Relying on some `moral' change in culture for
duty holders is beyond wishful thinking, and the evidence referred
to below regarding the recent incidence of deaths in the industry
belies such wishful thinking. It is workers, residents and their
families who pay the price for this wishful thinking.
2.7 The wide-spread precarity for workers
in the industry, the use of `blacklists' and anti-union activities
mitigate against both worker involvement in consultation over
safety and the ability of workers to refuse to work in an unsafe
manner or on unsafe work-sites. Without a regime of proactive
inspection, backed up by a funding regime that will allow the
HSE to carry out this role, without a change to the precarity
for workers in the industry and genuine involvement of workers
and trade unions in safety on site there will not be long-lasting
improvements to safety standards and a reduction in deaths and
2.8 There must be an enforcement blitz of
the construction industry, and in particular tower cranes as a
matter of urgency. This could set a standard for other high-risk
industries and by way of example encourage employers to ensure
compliance ahead of a visit by an inspector. By nature of their
sheer size, tower cranes pose a significant risk to the public
in the event of collapse. The BCDAG believe that it is mainly
good luck that has stopped a crane collapse killing large numbers
of workers and members of the public.
3. Record levels of deaths in construction
3.1 The ongoing spate of crane fatalities,
injuries and near misses plays its part in a climbing construction
death toll, as well as devastating the lives of families affected
by the carnage. The BCDAG believes that increased and effective
funding of the HSE and a genuine enforcement approach to preventing
deaths in the industry will save lives and improve safety in the
3.2 In 2006-07, a five year-high of 77 construction
deaths was reached. So far in 2007-08, there have been 28 deaths
in just over four months, which if this trend continues into the
winter months implies that a new record will be set for construction
deaths this year. The ongoing spate of crane fatalities, injuries
and near misses plays it part in this climbing death toll.
3.3 The recent spate of tower crane collapses
in London and across the UK indicate that there are serious problems
associated with the supply, commissioning, use and maintenance
of tower cranes.
3.4 Following the crane collapse at Battersea
26 September 2006 mentioned in the background to this memorandum,
there was another collapse involving Falcon cranes on Tuesday
16 January 2007, this time in Liverpool. Miraculously, the crane
driver escaped with minor injuries but a worker on the site was
killed when the crane fell on him. The Battersea Crane Disaster
Action Group wrote to the HSE on 18 January 2007 to demand that
prohibition notices were put on sites everywhere in the country
where Falcon cranes were operating, until full independent safety
checks had been carried out.
3.5 On 19 January the HSE issued a prohibition
notice on all Falcon Tower Cranes in the country pending independent
inspections. This action is unprecedented. As a result over 140
Falcon cranes were subjected to thorough examination and testing.
The inspection determined that 10% of Falcon cranes were found
to contain `Category A' faults. An initial analysis led to the
serving of another enforcement notice, this time an improvement
notice, requiring Falcon to thoroughly review their maintenance
arrangements, and ensure that these arrangements met minimum standards
specified in the notice schedule. This enforcement action saved
lives and the BCDAG believes should not be limited to cases where
a community campaign is in place to argue for such action. Such
enforcement action should be routine where there is suspicion
of non-compliance with safety standards.
4. Public safety
4.1 The use of tower cranes and the operation
of construction work-sites constitute a clear public safety concern.
The BCDAG believes that the lack of funding for proactive enforcement
of safety places the lives of the public at risk. This was sadly
borne out by our own experience in the Battersea crane collapse.
BCDAG find it strange that in other areas of public policy, whether
binge drinking, drug law policy and road safety preventative enforcement
to ensure compliance with legislation is routine. The example
of speed cameras is a case in point. The police do not just wait
until there is a fatality involving death caused by speed to then
prosecute. The police enforce speed limits for the purpose of
reducing the number of fatalities and to change the behaviour
and culture of road users. The excuses used to not do this in
industry regarding imposing a regulatory burden on business belie
a larger priority, which is one of de-regulation for business,
and placing the pursuit of profits over lives. In the construction
industry, the calls by industry for more education and "good"
employers setting a standard for the rest would be laughed out
of the room in other areas of public policy. Whilst there can
be value in initiatives by "good" employers, these "good"
employers have no leverage over the "bad" ones. The
BCDAG knows the costs of this policy. We do not ask for purely
enforcement or punitive measures to change behaviour and save
lives. We merely argue that simply relying on what is effectively
self-regulation by the employers is inadequate.
5. Strategic Forum for Construction Tower
5.1 The BCDAG welcomes the input we have
had into the work of the Tower Crane Group and we believe that
many of the recommendations will improve the provision of information
on safety standards into the industry.
5.2 However, the BCDAG is disappointed at
the refusal of the Strategic Forum for Construction Tower Crane
Group, in its short-term action plan released on 28 November 2007,
to support the recommendation of the BCDAG for a central publicly
available register of cranes as part of a strategy for improving
the transparency and visibility of cranes used in the industry.
The arguments by the industry for self-regulation and leadership
by `best practice' employers as the most effective approach to
reducing fatalities and injuries is not supported by the evidence
and one more worker or member of the public killed is one too
many. The BCDAG will continue to campaign for an industry that
is properly regulated and for a regulatory agency that is properly
5.3 The BCDAG understand that in some countries
in the world, eg France and Holland, a state inspector is present
every time a crane comes on site. That's what we'd like to see
in Britain. The HSE urgently need more government resources to
be able to keep the public safe.
1. A national register for all cranes used
in the UK, with relevant information to be publicly accessible.
2. There must be an enforcement blitz of
the construction industry, and in particular tower cranes as a
matter of urgency.
3. There must be an inquiry into, and an
end to the precarity, casualisation and lack of worker involvement
in safety in construction. There must be powers given to trade
unions and employee safety reps to issue improvement and prohibition
notices on employers and to be given "authorised powers"
to complement the work of the HSE inspectors.
4. There must be an inspection of all major
construction sites, and tower cranes by an inspector at the commencement
of each project with random follow up spot-checks.
5. The funding cuts to the HSE must be reversed
and funding expanded to ensure that the level of inspections,
issuing of notices and prosecutions can all be increased to allow
the HSE to meet its 60-40 target for proactive work.
6. A tripartite process involving all the
construction trade unions in the lead up to the Olympics must
be established to ensure education, best practice and standards
are maintained throughout the industry.
7. A properly funded HSE, committed to proactive
inspection and enforcement of safety standards in the construction
industry, combined with severe penalties for employers who kill
through negligence, is the key to a twin-track approach that also
combines an educative and consultative role for employees, trade
unions and employers to lift standards in the industry.