Site workers on HSBC Tower in Canary Wharf want national day of action over safety.

Construction workers on the HSBC Tower are calling for a national day of strike action in the wake of the crane collapse that killed three colleagues on Sunday.

The men fell 450 feet when a self-erecting tower crane snapped in two at the HSBC site in Canary Wharf, east London.

They have been named as Martin Burgess, 31, of Castleford in West Yorkshire, Michael Whittard, 39, of Leeds and Peter Clark, 33 of Southwark, London. One of the men was in the operator’s cab when the accident happened; the other two were climbing the mast. All three were employees of Hewden Towers, a Castleford-based subsidiary of Hewden Stuart. Three other site workers are being treated for shock and minor injuries.

One of the HSBC Tower workers calling for a strike, who refused to be named, said: “The unions have got to call for a day of action. There’s a UCATT conference in Ireland in two weeks and we’ll be trying to get an emergency resolution calling for a one-day stoppage on the agenda.”

UCATT general-secretary George Brumwell said: “If there were a one-day strike, the industry might sit up and take notice. I’m meeting the Health and Safety Commission. There have got to be lessons to be learned from this.” The Health and Safety Executive launched its inquiry into the deaths on Monday.

A spokesperson said: “A team of four inspectors, including one crane expert, are on site. So far, it seems the incident happened when Hewden Towers was adding masts to Man Wolffkran luffing tower cranes on the site. A first crane was successfully extended. But in the course of erecting the last section of the mast to the second crane using its self-erecting mechanism, it partially collapsed.”

Hewden Towers financial director Alastair Deakin said: “We have no idea what happened yet. We’ve worked on and off at Canary Wharf for nearly 12 years and I don’t think there have been any serious complaints. We are waiting for the outcome of the inquiry before we make any further comment.”

Work stopped at all the surrounding building sites on Monday and the clean-up operation began on Tuesday. It is understood that the project will be delayed by three weeks.

A spokesperson for developer and main contractor Canary Wharf Group said: “We are constantly reviewing our safety procedures to ensure they are of the highest standards and we are convinced

they are.” Speaking at this week’s Movement for Innovation conference, construction minister Nick Raynsford said the accident was a reminder of a need to “improve site conditions and extend the safety culture” to “minimise loss of life”.

“There is an unacceptably high level of accidents and this underlines the huge importance of the Respect for People agenda,” he said.

Union leaders have welcomed news this week that home secretary Jack Straw is proposing a new offence of corporate killing. The government published a consultation paper on Tuesday recommending that the law on corporate manslaughter be made clearer. Any changes to legislation are unlikely to be put into place before the next election.

How the self-erecting crane is believed to have failed

The HSE inquiry is focusing on a failure in the crane’s self-erecting mechanism, writes technical editor Andy Pearson. The tower crane, known as a luffing jib, is understood to have collapsed while its height was being increased. The crane has a structural collar, known as the climbing frame, fitted around the top of the mast. To increase its height, hydraulic jacks at the base of the climbing frame are extended, pushing up the collar and with it the top section of the crane including the cab, jib and counterweight. At this point, the climbing frame carries the weight of the top section. The operator then manoeuvres a new mast section through the open side of the climbing frame using the jib and the jacks are lowered. An equipment failure during this procedure may have occurred on Sunday.