Reports from Dubai indicate that crane lost control and caused critical damage to wall reinforcement

Early reports suggest a wayward crane may have caused the accident that killed five site workers at Dubai International Airport on Monday.

According to a senior official at Aéroports de Paris, which designed the airport’s terminal, a crane carrying a steel girder smashed into the steel reinforcement of a wall that was being built, causing the steel to collapse on the workers below. The official investigation is continuing.

A spokesperson for Laing O’ Rourke said the collapsed area was part of an 80 m long section of wall that had been under construction for the past three months, and that the reinforcement had been installed but the shuttering had not yet been built around it (see diagram).

The wall was intended to buttress the 14 m high side of a basement area within the airport extension.

Photographs of the damage appear to show that previously erected shuttering managed to contain the reinforcement to the right of the collapsed area, limiting the extent of the damage.

A crane carrying a steel girder smashed into the top of a wall, causing it to collapse on top of the workers

Hostile working conditions could also have been a contributory factor. Tight schedules, with sites operating 24 hours a day and seven days a week are the norm in Dubai, and daytime temperatures regularly exceed 40ºC. When Building visited the site in July, workers were just starting a 10-hour shift at 4.30pm on a Saturday with just a flimsy canopy to protect them from the sun.

If an accident happens, casualties are all but inevitable: labour is so inexpensive that it is cheaper to flood sites with workers rather than invest in expensive plant. Photographs appear to show the shuttering used for constructing the damaged wall was being hand-assembled from planks of wood and scaffolding rather than using a proprietary formwork system. This suggests that many workers were likely to have been present when the wall collapsed.

Laing O’Rourke is believed to have dropped out of the running for the world’s tallest tower, the 700 m Burj Dubai. The firm was on a seven-strong shortlist for the £450m scheme, but this is understood to have been shortened to three.

The remaining trio are thought to be a Multiplex-led consortium, a team including Japanese contractor Takenaka and a consortium that includes Korean firm Samsung and Belgian contractor Besix.