The incident was one of two related failures that happened in December 2011 at a site in South Road, Saffron Walden, Essex. Both were investigated by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
Chelmsford Crown Court heard that the company employed its own team of crane erectors for a project to construct new retirement apartments on the site. A 24m-high Jost luffing tower crane with a 45m jib was installed in early December 2011.
The court heard that on 15 December crane erectors were carrying out a test lift when the lifting rope broke, causing a heavy block and the seven-tonne test load to fall onto a trailer. No one was injured but witnesses described how the crane and jib recoiled violently, bucking back and forth.
But then on 23 December the crane’s jib collapsed, causing the 280kg hook-block to swing and fall outside the boundary of the construction site. The heavy steel block broke in two, partly demolishing a garage and fence belonging to a neighbouring developer. The bent jib was left hanging vertically from the top of the tower crane.
Fortunately, both construction sites had closed for the Christmas break and no one was injured. However, emergency services evacuated 30-40 residents from nearby homes while the area was made safe. Those evacuated were able to return home for Christmas Day.
Evidence indicated that the correct pre-tension torque was not applied to tighten these vital components and that no suitable lubrication regime was implemented.
At this point, the company could have ensured that a thorough mechanical examination of the crane was carried out, but it failed to do so. In fact, little more than a visual examination was carried out and the crane later collapsed after the connecting components in the lower jib failed in tension.
McCarthy & Stone Retirement Lifestyles Ltd, of Homelife House, Oxford Road, Bournemouth, was fined a total of £50,000 including a victim surcharge and ordered to pay £47,681 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 2 and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 at an earlier hearing.
Speaking after the sentencing hearing HSE principal inspector Norman Macritchie said: “It is only by good fortune that no one was injured or killed in these incidents. The jib collapse may have been avoided had the company identified and repaired any damage caused by the earlier incident when the lifting rope broke.
“Those who install lifting equipment and those who plan, organise and carry out lifting operations must ensure that these activities are carried out safely – the public is entitled to expect nothing less.”