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Special Investigators - Season 2 Episode 6 - Crane Rope Break

During work on a construction site at a Christchurch shopping mall a crane is being used to move heavy steel beams.  A worker is lucky to escape with minor injuries after a crane rope snaps and a half tonne steel beam falls to the ground.

Department of Labour Inspector David Bellet is called to the scene.  The investigation is critical, although this incident has resulted in only minor injuries it is clear that a more tragic result was possible.

At the scene David talks to Peter Clark, another employee at the site.

The injured worker had been operating the crane’s controls when the rope snapped dropping the beam. 

Peter explains how he had been watching the operation and saw the beam fall on his co-workers shoulder following a loud bang.  Peter himself was thrown to the ground and was saved from being crushed when the beam caught on a nearby object. 

David realises this incident could easily have resulted in a double fatality.

While talking to Peter, David notices something on the crane that needs closer inspection.  A warning mechanism has been disabled.

A weight is missing from the end of the mechanism and the rope had been tied off for safe keeping.  When working, this mechanism sounds an alarm if the hook gets too close to the boom and there is danger of the rope snapping.   The incident was exactly what the disabled device was designed to prevent. 

David places a prohibition notice on the crane  which means the crane cannot be used again until the warning mechanism has been repaired.

A few days later David discusses the details of the incident with colleague Bruce McLaren and together they decide to review the certification process on the crane to confirm the required maintenance has been conducted. 

Separate from the problems with the crane, Bruce is concerned with the general work procedures on the job.  Contrary to industry guidelines, Peter was guiding the load by standing directly underneath. Peter was employed by Luneys, the main contractor on site, and Bruce raises this issue with Phil Stanley, their Health & Safety Co-ordinator.

Phil explains management expects staff to use tag-lines in this situation which allows workers to steady loads from a distance.  Bruce reminds Phil that Courts have been very clear that management must ensure workers are complying with expectations and guidelines.

Satisfied that Luneys are taking the safety lapse seriously, Bruce takes a formal statement from Gerrit Roderkerken, mechanic for John Jones Steel Limited, the company who supplied and operated the crane.  Bruce has seen no evidence to say that the crane’s annual certification is up to date and it is revealed the crane has had no certification since its original installation five years earlier.

In what he expects to be a formality, Bruce checks on the replacement crane and finds it’s probably more dangerous than the one involved in the recent incident and issues a prohibition notice on the second crane. 

The Department is convinced that the contractor John Jones Steel is not taking it’s safety obligations seriously enough.  Even after a potentially serious accident that narrowly avoided a fatality, the company returned the same untrained operator to the job, providing him again with unsafe and uncertified equipment.

The Department proceeds with prosecution and after hearing the evidence provided by the Department’s investigation, the Judge imposed a fine of $12,000 on the company for the use of unsafe cranes and an untrained operator.