Writing about remote controls in my previous entry prompted me to sift through the letters archive on the site – www.hoistmagazine.com/letters – where a raft of readers were joined by the UK’s Heath and Safety Executive (HSE) recently in a bid to ramp up their search for so-called ‘unsafe’ remote suppliers.

The influx of more and more remote controls, admittedly of varying quality, has sparked a defensive reaction from the firms that have been at the controls of industrial remotes for a number of years. And many question the legality of some of the newer systems on the market.

But when the dust has settled on the latest bout of mud-slinging, the end users and crane builders will still be stood arms apart with shoulders shrugged pleading for greater clarity. And they must get it. Whether it’s in the form of a product section within an existing trade association or a neutral, international body, independent assessment of remote units must be conducted and reported back to the industry.

But without going on about this again, my original point was the HSE’s letter, in which an inspector says they’ve had a direct enquiry from one supplier of so-called legal remotes as a result of the publicity on the site and that they “are dealing with it.” The HSE claims to be “looking at the technical and legal issues” and says that “an example of an illegal remote to follow up would be very useful, but, of course, we don’t yet have one.”

The letter went on to say: “Such an example would undoubtedly help us to determine the extent and significance of any wrong doing, the likelihood of any actual harm arising and the priority to attach to any publicity and remedial work.” It reckons following up an illegal example would be the next step and that any further work and publicity will follow from what it actually finds.

Believe it or not, it’s gone very quiet since, and I’m not holding my breath. However, if a remote system fails and a load comes crashing down causing destruction and, dare I say it, death, I fully expect the full HSE cavalry to arrive, with the intent to prosecute and shame. I’m not saying the remote controls in question are unsafe, but why doesn’t the HSE offer some reassurances?

Blatant and dangerous breaches of safety are unacceptable and criminal. Everyone would agree. But there’s still an opinion within the industry that the HSE is more reactive than proactive. Take a case as an example where a Birmingham, UK, employee was fatally crushed between the moving outer coil of a three high stack and the stationary coil he still had suspended from a crane.

An investigation decided that the worker himself could in no way be blamed for his death and the judge said there was no deliberate or reckless disregard of health and safety or cutting of corners to save money. The HSE deemed that the deceased was “diligent and careful” in following company requirements and that “he took his supervisor’s duties seriously.”

Given that, you may be surprised to learn that Clifton Steel Limited was fined £150,000 (over Euros 218,000). In addition, costs of £20,000 (nearly Euros 30,000) were awarded to the prosecution.

In the lifting business, there are accidents waiting to happen. And when, as a result, a worker pays the ultimate price, even when good practice is apparent, surely we don’t need to follow this with a hefty fine. Surely such time and energy would be better channelled in other directions.

I recall a presentation at a recent Crane Safety conference, where Alfred Beer of certification body Tuev Sued Rail, Germany, played a video of a diligent and careful penguin losing his footing and falling through the ice upon which he walked. Accidents happen.

Stay safe, while I see if I can provoke an update from the HSE.

Richard Howes, Editor