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Safety in the Construction Industry:

A potentially tragic near miss incident


The construction industry in Britain is still a hazardous business. 

Even the public is at risk as the following personal experience shows.


Summary of the incident:

On the 6th February 2005 ,at approximately 14.50 hours today, my daughter and I were leaving the People’s History Museum (The Pump House), Left Bank, Manchester . As we were descending the (temporary) main steps of the Museum, we became aware of a ‘whooshing’ sound (like a firework rocket). 

We looked up and saw an object falling from an overhead construction crane. A split second later it impacted about 5 to10  metres away from us on the asphalt / tarmac of the public roadway - ie outside the museum premises and outside the perimeter of the construction site called Spinningfields and whose hoarding advertises that it is a Bovis project. 

The first photo below shows the scene of the near-tragic incident at Spinningfields. Note the grease stain at the position of the main impact. The photo was taken from where I had been walking.

The scene of the near-tragic incident at Spinningfields


On impact the object(s) scattered over a wide area with some debris ending up about 2 metres or less away from us –at our feet. It made a noise resembling an explosion. At the point of impact it left a black stain on the asphalt / tarmac of about 3 metres diameter, and the air smelt like burnt oil. The debris included the remnants of a canister (or canisters) which were consistent in appearance with pressurised cans, orange plastic - resembling a broken cap, and thin plastic material - the remnants of a supermarket plastic carrier bag.

The photo below shows the tower crane ( TC 2 ) from which the canisters had been dropped. From that height they would have reached 'terminal velocity'. If they landed on my or my daughter's head the situation our condition would likely have been 'terminal' too!

Tower crane at Spinningfields - the site of the incident.


The canisters etc had fallen from a tower crane on the Spinningfields development site. One would have thought that when metal canisters of grease for the cables was needed, a safer system of operation would have been used than to put them in a supermarket carrier bag and hoist them up with the arm effectively overhanging the public highway.

The photo below shows a canister of cable grease and other debris which landed at the foot of the steps as my daughter and I were going down them.


We were very shaken. Had we left the museum about 5 seconds earlier we would have been on that public way, possibly hit by the object, and almost certainly killed outright if we had been hit. Members of the public had left the museum a few minutes before us (while we were in the museum shop) and other members of the public entered the museum shortly after the incident. Any of these people could have been killed if the incident had happened very shortly earlier / later. 

The following photo shows one of the canisters which had fallen from tower crane and which had landed by the Bovis Lend Lease 'Puts Safety First' slogan .

Canister fallen from tower crane by the Bovis 'Puts Safety First' slogan


After I had begun to compose myself I saw a gang of at least construction six workers inspecting the site and clearing up the mess, by hand and with a broom. They then spread sand over the grease stain and left. 

The following photo shows a construction worker holding the evidence - note the supermarket carrier bag which had been used to hoist the cable grease canisters up the tower crane.




When I later spoke by phone to Peter Foy, the Bovis Lend Lease project executive for the development, he personally undertook to send me a letter both by way of apology and to  give an account of his investigation and actions. More than three years later this letter is still awaited from him.

When I reported the matter to Ms Anna Bliss, the responsible HSE inspector,  her response was that she would contact the company and ask them what steps they would take so the matter would not happen again. Before the year was out a similar incident occurred. So I contacted the HSE again asking them what  they were going to do about. A response is still awaited.



The word 'incident' has been used rather than 'accident'. This is because an accident is defined in the dictionary on the lines of an "event that is without apparent cause or unexpected".  It is to be expected that using a plastic supermarket carrier bag to hoist metal cylinders containing grease some one hundred metres up a tower crane carries a risk of serious mishap. 



The author was an invited speaker on the subject of "Occupational Ill Health and Injury in Construction"  at the 2008 Society of Occupational Medicine Annual Scientific Meeting.

He has published in the peer-reviewed medical literature on the subject of health risks associated in the construction industry.

A companion page discusses the need for more to be done to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the HSE.