Disastrous City Centre Crane Collapse


A crane driver was left paralysed from the waist down when his machine collapsed onto Kings Dock Mill, a new 8-storey hotel and apartment complex being constructed in Liverpool.

This 79-metre-high tower crane overturned on 6th July 2009. The problem was that the crane’s foundation could not cope with the forces that it generated.

The principal contractor, Bowmer & Kirkland Ltd, and structural engineers Bingham Davis Ltd, were responsible for the cutting away of essential steel reinforcement bars from the four concrete foundation piles when constructing the foundation, in order that the crane’s feet could sit on top on them. They replaced the bars with up to 5 steel rods per pile. The foundation could only withstand lower forces than before, as a result of this change.

On the fateful day, the crane fell onto a partially constructed building across the road and came to rest on the Chandlers Wharf apartment block. Eight counterweights on the crane, weighing 56 tonnes in all, broke free and crashed right through the roof and down through six floors of the building.

Its driver Iain Gillham (55) fell from the cab onto the roof of the apartments and down through the hole that had been created by the counterweights.

His injuries included a brain haemorrhage, fractured skull, a broken right shoulder and ribs, crushing injuries on his left side and major spinal injuries causing paralysis to his legs. He will be unable to walk for the rest of his life.

Amazingly, no-one inside the building was injured. Residents of the 64 Chandlers Wharf apartments were evacuated: some had to be rescued from balconies. The damage caused to the building was so extensive and the necessary reconstruction work so major that they could not return to their homes for nearly two years. It was a pure stroke of luck that there were no deaths or more extensive damage.

Why did it happen?

The HSE investigation found that the Bingham Davis employees at Kings Dock Mill had no previous experience of designing this type of crane foundation, and Bowmer & Kirkland’s employees there had no experience of building one.

HSE concluded that both companies made preventable, disastrous errors: the first being by Bingham Davis Ltd who made, and then failed to spot, a basic calculation error concerning the crane loadings on the foundation. This created a material risk that could lead to the construction of a crane foundation that was not strong enough to effectively support the device.

The engineers advised builders Bowmer and Kirkland to cut away the necessary steel reinforcing bars in the foundation piles and to replace them with steel rods. This meant that the foundation was too weak, and it was further weakened when the contractors did not adequately insert the steel rods.

Both companies were found wanting because they did not do enough to check the result of cutting away essential reinforcement and using a steel rod alternative.

Clear Verdict

Judge Gilmour at Liverpool Crown Court was satisfied that the removal of the reinforcing steel and the inadequate steel rod replacements were responsible for the overloading of the foundation and the consequent crane collapse.

Both the construction companies were found guilty of breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in their failure to ensure the safety of workers or residents.

Bowmer and Kirkland Ltd, of Church Street, Heage, Derbyshire, was fined £280,000.

Bingham Davis Ltd, formerly of Temple Street, Liverpool ceased trading after the crane collapse and went into voluntary liquidation. It was consequently fined only a nominal £1,000.

The Inspector commented:

HSE hopes this case sends a clear message to the construction industry in relation to tower cranes foundations. Designers of such should be familiar with industry accepted guidance and follow it, unless they have extremely well thought-out reasons for not doing so. The role of the Principal Contractor is also crucial in managing the design process. Both Principal Contractors and Designers should ensure that robust systems for design checking are actioned at all times.

This well-made comment shows that there is no hiding place for firms that do not abide by the regulations. In straightened circumstances, specific construction safety personnel cannot be afforded by contractors: therefore it is essential that they avail themselves of the right type of professional assistance in the form of independent CDM Co-ordinators and Health and Safety Consultants – not the type of firm that indulges in tick-box solutions but one that employs time-served experts and never forgets that it owes its loyalties to the building contractors themselves: a firm like McCormack Benson Health & Safety.