End delay in crane accident investigation call

Unite reiterates call for HSE to publish initial findings into east London crane accident

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Unite has called on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to end its delay and publish its initial findings into a major crane accident last month in Bow, East London, which killed one person and left several injured.

Immediately following the accident, Unite wrote to the HSE demanding answers after the Wolffkran crane collapsed onto two terraced houses.

June Harvey, who was resident at one of the houses, was found dead at the scene after the crane collapsed. One of those injured, a construction worker, was in critical condition in hospital but is now in stable condition, according to the Met Police.

In his initial letter to the HSE, Unite national officer Jerry Swain wrote that aside from being the recognised union at Wolffkran, Unite also has many members employed across the tower crane sector in construction “who are eager to understand the reasons behind this distressing incident. Any prolonged time lapse in identifying the cause will have a detrimental affected on our members”.

“The mental torture faced by a crane operator climbing his/her crane following this collapse cannot be overstated; there will I am sure also be such concerns among other site workers and the general public who live adjacent to sites where tower cranes are operated,” the letter continued.

Unite initially asked the HSE to publish its preliminary findings in an interim report by August 21. But with no publication yet forthcoming, Unite has now said that any further delay must end with urgency to lift the cloud of suspicion which currently hangs over the crane operators involved, and the company itself, Wolffkran Ltd.

Unite’s latest call comes as Tower Hamlets council said last week that safely stabilising and removing the crane could take as long as six months. The council gave an initial estimate of three months, but then warned that with the continuing Covid-19 pandemic and the arrival of winter, removing the crane could take as long as half a year.

Several weeks on since the accident, Sam Atkinson, whose great-aunt died in the accident, spoke out about how the incident has left him traumatised.

Speaking to the BBC, he told of how he was in the same house with his mum and great-aunt June, with whom he lived, when the accident occurred. He called out for them after the crane fell, but no one responded and so thought both his mum and great aunt had died. He later found his mum uninjured, who was only a metre away from June when the crane fell.

 “Every time I fall asleep, I have a dream that something has fallen on me,” he said. “I jump over every single noise. It’s just really traumatic.

“With health and safety these days, this should not have happened. We want to know why and how it happened. We want answers.”

Unite has said that the speedy publication of initial findings by the HSE is absolutely paramount in making sure such an accident never happens again.

Commenting, Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said, “It is vital that the HSE ends the delay and publishes its initial findings into the reasons why a crane tragically collapsed in Bow in July.

“The HSE cannot be seen to be trying to sweep the investigation into this accident under the carpet. It is already nearly seven weeks since the accident occurred.

“The company concerned and the workers involved have a cloud of suspicion hanging over them and this is almost certainly unfair,” he added.

“Unite is the recognised union at Wolffkran.  Our members are already having to operate in difficult conditions due to Covid-19 pandemic; it is simply unfair to have unanswered questions about this accident hanging over them.

“Equally, the only way the industry can learn from this tragedy and ensure it is prevented from happening again is if the HSE’s initial findings are published,” Swain went on to say.

“If the HSE cannot publish their initial findings for any reason then they must publicly say why and what is causing that delay.”

By Hajera Blagg

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