When Building launched its Safer Skyline campaign almost two years ago, the crane industry was in crisis

There had been a spate of shocking deaths including a member of the public killed while washing his car, and more were to follow soon after. At the time we called for a Health and Safety Executive blitz on tower cranes, more rigorous checks on those more than 10 years old and a public register of checks carried out on cranes. But the campaign was also about galvanising the industry generally into tackling what seemed like a corner of woeful complacency.

Since then a great deal has started to change for the better. For example, the Construction Plant-hire Association has worked with the HSE to produce guidance on crane maintenance; the Strategic Forum set up a tower crane group with a remit to come up with ways to improve tower crane safety including making assessment part of the Considerate Contractors badge; large contractors such as Bovis Lend Lease, Balfour Beatty and Wates have updated their crane safety policies and introduced innovative safety measures … and there are many more such initiatives. The industry has given tower crane safety the priority it needs, while parliament, too, has taken the issue to its heart with dozens of MPs throwing their weight behind this cause.

In fact it was the demand of the House of Commons Work and Pensions select committee for a register of tower cranes to be set up that persuaded James Purnell, the work and pensions minister, to instruct the HSE to do exactly that (see page 24). It is up to the HSE now to work out how the register can become a meaningful record that can offer reassurance about safe operation. Since cranes need to be inspected for insurance reasons, it might make sense for that information to be sent to the HSE, for example. There is also debate about whether drivers and crane erectors should be included on the register – since it is their competence, or lack of it, that is a major factor in crane safety. There is clearly much to be worked out, and it is right that the register should be voluntary to begin with. Ultimately though, as Ucatt’s Alan Ritchie points out, it must become statutory at the earliest possible date if it is to be effective.

It is up to the HSE now to work out how the crane register can become a meaningful record that can offer reassurance about safe operation

Cometh the hour…

Rob Holden is an enlightened choice to head up Crossrail. As chief executive of London and Continental Railways he drove through the construction of the high-speed rail link and the refurbishment of St Pancras station with nothing but glowing praise. Landing someone of his calibre to take up the post further helps dissipate the doubts that persist that the project still might not go ahead. But he’s certainly going to have his work cut out. The construction of Crossrail is a fiendishly difficult challenge, made more difficult by the fact that so much is riding on it politically and yet even now not all the funding is in place. As the LSE’s Tony Travers observes on page 14: “It’s changed from a railway into the Hoover Dam. It was always big and complicated. Now it’s big, complicated and symbolic.”

Holden’s priority is to appoint his programme and project managers from the shortlisted bidders and then quickly validate the £19.6bn bill for the scheme. Let’s hope that it turns out to be rather more accurate than the back-of-an-envelope calculations originally mooted for the London Olympics. Otherwise, even with the exceptional leadership of Holden, Crossrail could still spend a few more years stuck in the sidings.