Crane accidents – Who is responsible?

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) is increasingly worried about the substantial number of accidents involving cranes at construction sites in this country.  Most of these cases are caused by non-compliance of basic safety guidelines as stipulated by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH).

In May 2007, two contractors and a crane manufacturer were charged in court over a construction site accident which claimed the life of an Indonesian construction worker. He was killed when the cable of a crane holding 1.5 tonnes of metal rods snapped and crashed down on him. The contractors were prosecuted by DOSH for failing to provide sufficient supervision of worker safety, failing to provide a safe working environment, failing to establish safe work procedures, failing to provide information to workers on dangers, safety measures and precautions and failing to manage the safety of workers during the crane’s operation. The crane manufacturer however, was charged with failing to conduct monthly inspections of the crane. DOSH’ concentrated efforts in bringing the guilty party’s to justice was worthy of praise. Unfortunately, this lesson was lost on many other construction contractors who continued to neglect safety recommendations with regards to their cranes.


In March this year, another crane mishap occurred; this time on the Penang Bridge. Although no one was hurt in the accident, it inadvertently caused massive traffic congestion due to the mismanagement of the crisis by the relevant authorities. According to a media report, the accident involved a mobile crane toppling over after “a cable connected to the crane became entangled with a bridge pile structure as it was being used to lift a demolished parapet.”


CAP questions how this could have happened. Were all safety precautions taken beforehand to ensure that the cable did not slack sufficiently to cause entanglements during the operation? Did the person responsible for the crane carry out a complete inspection and testing of the crane before operations, as per DOSH guidelines? And how was it that a simple cable entanglement caused the massive mobile crane to tip over when the basic principle of a crane’s operations depends on the magnitude of load that is permitted to be lifted being necessarily less than the load that will cause the crane to tip, thus providing a safety margin. The obvious question that arises here is if the crane was overloaded beyond its hoisting capacity. Was the weight of the demolished parapet specified after responsible checking of the load and determined to be safe in line with DOSH guidelines?


Additionally and in adherence to these guidelines, is the crane operator registered with DOSH and does the crane possess a valid certificate of fitness from them? Were daily, weekly and pre-operation inspection and testing carried out by the crane’s manufacturer and DOSH? Were all DOSH guidelines pertaining to crane operation safety enforced by the main contractor? 

DOSH regulations for safe and responsible crane operations as specified in its “Guidelines for Public Safety and Health at Construction Sites” are unambiguous and well defined despite being minimal. There is no reason or excuse by any agency or party involved in crane operations; mobile or otherwise to be ignorant or negligent in complying with these potentially life saving guidelines. 

The question of responsibility and accountability also arises. Last year, the Minister for Human Resources, Datuk Dr S Subramaniam assured us that ‘professionals’ will be made responsible for workplace safety. He said, “If a crane accident occurs at a construction site, we want the engineers involved in ensuring the crane’s safety to be answerable.” He added that this was among the measures taken to ensure organisations implement well-defined safety and health practices for their workers and that these ‘professionals’ should ensure a safety mechanism is in place.


CAP concurs with the Minister’s call for responsibility in ensuring the implementation of safety and health mechanisms at construction sites and accountability in dealing with crane accidents by the “professionals” concerned. With the onus put by the Human Resources Ministry on main contractors to take responsibility for worksite safety, CAP urges the responsible parties to be accountable to the relevant authorities by revealing to them details of the potentially life-threatening crane accident on the Penang Bridge.


CAP also calls for the team of forensic engineers with DOSH to reveal the findings of their investigations into the accident and in the process, play a central role in establishing a benchmark for the conformance to their Guidelines by all in the construction industry of Malaysia.