Evidence of Barry Clinch, health and safety expert witness
P: Mr Clinch, you have a BSc from the London School of Economics, you are a fellow of the Institute of Occupational Health and Safety and you have worked with the HSE – previously the factory inspectorate for 31 years?
P: You have worked in the Merseyside area covering wharves and docksides?
P: You have seen a wide range of dock operations?
P: For 15 years you have been a Principal Inspector and have since moved to Hull?
P: You undertake regular inspections of ports and wharves?
P: This includes the handling of bulk aggregate etc.?
On many occasions you have seen grab cranes and excavators used for
handling loose materials?
P: You have seen a Liebherr excavator in operation?
P: You have seen it grabbing loose material and also lifting bags with hooks?
P: When bags or packs are lifted by an excavator, how would that normally be carried out?
BC: You would remove the grab; fit a lifting hook, which can also be used with rectangular frames or slings for lifting 4 or 8 bags.
P: Have you ever seen lifting done using chain slings wrapped around a closed grab?
BC: Yes, on rare occasions.
P: Have you seen lifting lugs welded to a single bucket excavator?
BC: Yes very occasionally.
Was this a bucket excavator where the jaws can close or open the bucket?
BC: No. It was a single open bucket with no jaws.
P: Have you ever seen an open grab with chains suspended from within the grab?
P: Have you seen bags of cobblestones being lifted by a Liebherr excavator at a dock near Hull?
P: Was a grab used?
BC: No; a hook attachment with a rectangular frame.
P: How many chains were there?
BC: There were two machines; one had 4 and one had 8 chains.
P: Were these subject to safe working load limits?
BC: Yes. They were thoroughly inspected and examined.
P: Are there regulations which govern the marking of safe working load on the exterior of an excavator?
BC: Yes (names them).
P: You have read the witness statements, seen Miss Barringer’s report and seen the photos?
P: On that information, in your view, did the system involve risk?
BC: It did involve risk.
P: What risks were these?
BC: Consider an excavator versus a crane. The crane is like a fishing rod, with a line and hook; you have good visibility around the hook. This is important for the men in the hold communicating with the banksman. The excavator with the grab is more like a snooker cue. When it is lowered into the hold with the grab on the end, visibility is obstructed. The men in the hold are effectively on a moving platform. The ship moves with the swell, and with the wash from other ships on the harbour. The conventional crane, with a long rope, takes up the movement. The hydraulic arm of an excavator is rigid. As the ship moves, the arm does not take up the movement. A person can be thrown towards, or away from, the arm. If the hydraulic supply to the grab is not shut off, the grab could close. The controls are sensitive, like those on a computer game. The operator is effectively sitting in an armchair and can easily move the controls. The same control spins the bucket, and opens and closes it. It is a very quick action. There is the added danger that inadvertent movement of the operator could cause the grab to open, close or rotate, putting people at risk. With chains wrapped around the outside of the grab, there is the added risk that the chains have unusual forces exerted on them. If the grab tries to open, it stretches the chains and they could fail. With the chains inside the grab, the chains could fail if the grab closes. Working beneath an open grab is like putting your head in the lion’s mouth; it may be a very benign lion, it may not want to close its jaws, but it could do so inadvertently. The men still have to attach the chains to the load. The banksman can’t see clearly how close the jaws are as they approach the people in the hold. The operation is considered quite risky, as compared with using the hook attachment. It takes about one to one-and –a half-hours to change the grab for the hook.
P: If the grab closed on the chains, could there be risk to the chains?
BC: They would be damaged. The damage would be greater if the chains were under tension, as when lifting a load. They could break and drop the load.
P: What is the closing force of the grab?
BC: Several tons.
P: You visited Euromin on 26 April 2001, and operated the controls of the Liebherr?
P: How easy was it to move the joystick?
BC: Very easy: it was a short movement action, very much like a computer game.
P: Did you try to move it with one finger?
BC: Yes: it was sufficient to operate the grab.
P: How quickly did the grab close?
BC: Almost instantaneously. There were a few seconds at the most between operating the lever and the jaws closing.
D: When was your witness statement made; was it after March 2001?
D: Was this your first visit to Euromin?
D: You said that you have rarely seen an excavator used with chains wrapped around the outside of the grab?
D: When you saw this system, you did not issue prohibition notices?
D: It was easy to move the joystick from side to side and backwards and forwards?
D: If the operator knocks the lever forward, this can drop the grab or a hook?
D: Which regulations cover this type of operation?
BC: Lifting operations are covered by Lifting Equipment Regulations 1999.
D: Which regulations were in force in 1998?
BC: The Docks Regulations.
D: I want to question you on the forward and backward movement of the joystick; in your statement, you said the right hand joystick moved from left to right to open and close the grab and from front to back to rotate. Was this a mistake?
D: Had you forgotten?
BC: No. I misunderstood the notes, which I made at the time.
D: Was the joystick spring-loaded?
D: To operate it you have to hold it?
J: How long do you need to hold it for?
BC: Less than a second. The movement is almost instantaneous and if you let go of the joystick it stops.
P: How long is the delay between starting to move the joystick to the left and the commencement of the grab closing?
BC: It starts to move almost instantaneously; to close the grab fully takes longer.