A steel company has been fined £15,000 after a four-metre-long girder crashed through the roof of a Preston estate agents, narrowly missing two office workers.
East Yorkshire contractor Pocklington Steel Structures was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an investigation into what caused the 80 kilogram girder - the equivalent weight of a average UK man - to fall from the crane.
Preston Magistrates' Court heard that two female employees were working in the ground floor shop when the incident happened. The girder was one of 18 similar steel beams to be lifted by the crane that morning on a construction site for a new hotel on Fox Street in Preston.
The company had spent the morning lifting girders at a 45-degree angle to fit into the new hotel structure. But the HSE found that nothing was done to stop the girders slipping through the chains wrapped around them.
The investigation concluded the beams should have been lifted when level and not at an angle. Pocklington Steel should also have ensured the girders could not slip out of the chains by attaching shackles in holes drilled through them, as they were being lifted near to the public and other buildings.
Anthony Polec, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: "It must have been terrifying for the staff on duty in the estate agents that day when they suddenly heard and then saw a steel girder crashing down next to their desks, right where the public normally stand.
"It was only by chance that the incident happened on a Saturday when fewer staff were at work, and that no members of the public were in the building at the time. For such a high lift, near to people on the ground, it is simply not good enough to wrap chains around girders, in a so-called choke hitch, without securing them.
"Two office workers had a lucky escape but several people could easily have been killed. It's vital construction companies make sure they use cranes safely to prevent similar incidents happening again."
Pocklington Steel Structures admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by putting the lives of workers and the public at risk. It was also ordered to pay £6,706 towards the cost of the prosecution in addition to the fine.