Socialist Worker

Deaths at work could be prevented

Issue No. 2064

So far this month three people have died on construction sites in Britain. Stephen Griffiths fell to his death on a site in London on Monday of last week.

James Gordon, a 63-year-old worker, plunged to his death from scaffolding on a building site in Worthing on Tuesday of last week. An unnamed worker was crushed to death on Thursday of last week when a crane toppled over on a Liverpool site.

In the last year 84 people have been killed in accidents on construction sites. Some 40 percent of all workplace deaths involve falling from height.

Last September Michael Alexa had been changing a wheel on his car outside his home in South London. A 165 foot crane snapped in two, landing on Michael and decapitating him. The crane’s driver, John Cloake, was also killed.

Initial reports suggested that the 30 year old tower crane, owned by Falcon Crane Hire, had a string of faults – including missing, bent and worn bolts.

Falcon owns 20 percent of Britain’s tower cranes, with a fleet of 220 and a turnover of nearly £20 million.

In November last year a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector found loose and stretched bolts on a Falcon crane at a site in Epsom, Surrey.

In January this year, another Falcon crane collapsed in Liverpool. It killed Polish worker Zbigniew Swirzynski. The HSE issued prohibition notices, requiring Falcon to take any crane that had not been independently checked out of service.


Around 180 cranes were being checked in-house, without what the legislation describes as the “required degree of independence”. The HSE’s inspectors found that around one in ten of these had serious faults.

In March, Falcon was issued with an improvement notice which required it to change its maintenance regime from a “reactive” to a “proactive” one.

One step to the halting the deaths on construction sites would be to stop cuts in the HSE.

Since 2002, the HSE has cut over 1,000 jobs as a result of government spending cuts, meaning that over 350 major injuries were not investigated last year due to the lack of trained inspectors.

Liliana Alexa, the mother of Michael Alexa, is secretary of the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group. She told Socialist Worker, “Deaths through crane collapses and accidents aren’t just statistics – they are lives destroyed. We want the industry to understand that no deaths are acceptable. Crane deaths must end now.

“I want crane safety laws in place, firms to change their maintenance procedures and better supervision and improved training for those who erect these cranes.”

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Tue 14 Aug 2007, 18:05 BST
Issue No. 2064
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