April 27, 2014 - For a number of years now we have been critical of those safety authorities such as the UK’s HSE for the excessive time it takes to investigate, report on and prosecute accidents.
This came to a head again recently with the fatal 135ft boom lift incident in London, where almost a year on and in spite of a good deal of pressure all we know is that the lift had been mis-calibrated. By now we ought to have concluded this definitively, agreed proposals to ensure that it cannot happen again and IF there was to be any prosecution, to have laid charges.
The fact is that who mis-calibrated the machine is not a major issue as long as those investigating are sure that it was not purposely interfered with - a wholly unlikely scenario that could have been determined within the first 48 hours. After that time, the primary concern is what caused the overturn and the investigation should have quickly zoned in on the lower boom angle and after that the manufacturer could have shown exactly how it was calibrated and along with the owner how an error might have been made.
Once that was done the industry could have agreed how to prevent future errors, any retrofits, modifications designed and implemented. Instead we are still likely to be dithering one year on.
At the recent IPAF Summit, David Miller, deputy chief inspector of air accidents in the UK explained how the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) is organised, and how it goes about investigating accidents, monitoring and collating near misses and anonymous concerns. What became crystal clear to most of those attending the presentation is that the AAIB’s no-blame culture and complete independence from any other government body or any prosecution role is a perfect model for conducting crane and access accident investigations.
An air accident investigation team typically aims to provide a preliminary report on an incident within seven days of the occurrence, posting its findings on the internet for all to see and then updating it anytime new facts or information is discovered, which can be weekly or even daily. Manufacturers and operators are involved in the process which focuses solely on discovering the cause and finding solutions to prevent it happening again.
Why cannot this well proven international system be adopted for our industry? The manpower levels are not very onerous, in fact if organisations such as the HSE adopted the same programme it would almost certainly consume fewer resources - nothing soaks up time and energy like long protracted investigations and prosecutions.
Talking to people involved in the UK and to industry associations elicits the response ‘changing the way things are done is too hard’ and ‘that the government will not listen’, so the conclusion is drawn that there is no point in wasting any time on it. And yet I did not come across a single person that did not think that it would make sense and be a far better and healthier way to investigate incidents, encourage the reporting of near misses and improve safety, thereby reducing serious injuries.
This is a case where industry associations and major contractors ought to demand and insist that changes are made. In the UK progress on reducing injuries and fatalities has stalled or slowed after many years of excellent progress. The current government seems keen to cut the burden imposed by seemingly excessive health and safety rules - many of the ‘rules’ have slipped in as those in the safety sector search for ways to make further progress within the current system. Only a major change will work, so perhaps this is the time for the industry as a whole to launch a vigorous and dynamic campaign for radical change?
We appear to be sliding into an era where truth and facts are seen as disruptive irritations, not only by outspoken ‘populist’ politicians, but increasingly of large companies and industry associations.
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