As specialists struggle to remove the jib of the crane residents express shock at their lucky escape

Standing on the platform at Forest Hill station you can't miss the aftermath of the latest crane collapse. It looms dramatically close to the railway line, the buckled jib hanging at a steep angle.

Behind the construction site lies a small row of houses. All share a back alley filled with old tyres, rubbish skips, and mattresses. At the far end of the alley is the site cabin.

A worker emerges from the side of the cabin. He says the driver of the crane was “shocked” but is back on site ready to work. “No one was injured – that’s the main thing,” he says, and predicts the block of flats will not be ready for a while.

Forest Hill crane collapse

Back on the main road, the site entrance is cordoned off by red and white accident tape. Locals watch the action from the patio of The Bird In Hand pub, as a fluorescent mass of health and safety officials and specialists discuss the best way to remove the crane.

A shiny orange Ainscough crane hangs over the collapsed one. Andrew Beal, HSE acting principle inspector, says it has already been used to remove two of the four counterweights, which weighed two and a half tonnes.

The other two weights cannot be removed yet, because the site has not got the lift capacity to do it. When the crane has been removed, the incident will be investigated as a “dangerous occurrence”.

“Our key role is to make sure the removal operation is properly planned and once that’s been completed, we can carry out our investigation,” says Beal. “If any issue of wider interest emerges, we’ll let the industry know.”

Beal says the site will remain close until the crane is removed and another erected, which will probably not happen this year.

Ucatt site convenor Vince McCoy has come down to take stock. He says he was worried about how the collapse could affect residents. “My main concern was the railway line,” he says. “There’s a little alley as well that members of the public use. I’d like to see the results from the HSE – it’s going to take a number of months.”

Back at the pub patio, he is approached by Kenneth Hoyle, 73, a Forest Hill resident and ex-construction worker.

“There’s too many people taking risks on sites,” he says. “Not only that but a lot of these people are self-employed. Years ago you had proper rights, you had double time, holiday pay, if it rained you got off a day, people ain't got a clue on site, the lot of them.”

He takes a sip of his beer. “I’ve had a couple of pints, but I know what I’m saying makes sense.”