HC Deb 16 June 1937 vol 325 cc425-9

6.3 p.m.

Mr. White

I beg to move, in page 18, line 3, at the end, to insert: Provided that a lifting machine may be loaded beyond the safe-working load in exceptional cases to such extent and subject to such conditions as may be approved on each occasion by the makers of such lifting machine if—

  1. (a) on each occasion the written permission of the owner or his responsible agent has been obtained; and
  2. (b) a record of the overload is made in the register."
The exceptional cases with which the Amendment deals are not frequent, but they do occur from time to time. They are dealt with under the docks regulations made in pursuance of Section 79 of the Factory and Workshop Act, 1901, Regulation 30. This is the machinery under which these exceptional loads are transported from time to time. No one need regard the Amendment with suspicion, because its only object is to strengthen the existing procedure. I should like to draw attention to the docks regulation to which I have referred. Regulation 30 says: No machinery, chains or other lifting appliance shall be loaded beyond the safe working load except that a crane may be loaded beyond a safe working load in exceptional cases to such extent and subject to such conditions as may be approved by the engineer in charge or other competent person, if on each occasion
  1. (i) the written permission of the owner or his responsible agent has been obtained;
  2. (ii) a record of the overload is kept."
That is the procedure now followed, and although it does allow the overloading of machines it is done with proper precautions and with full knowledge of what is happening. That would be a safer method of procedure than by adopting any other alternative method. Our Amendment differs, however, from the docks regulation in one important particular, and that is, instead of requiring the permission or approval of the engineer in charge, we substitute the maker of the machine. We feel that the calling in of the engineer in charge is not, perhaps, the best method of securing safety, because he has not necessarily any special qualification for saying whether a particular machine will carry a particular load. The one person in the world who is really competent to do that and to say what the machine will carry is the maker of the machine. Moreover, the maker of the machine is the one man who is least likely to give permission for too heavy a load to be carried, because his reputation would suffer and might be irretrievably damaged if his machine broke down. We think that our Amendment is an improvement on the existing practice, and one that might well be commended to the House.

There is no method in the Bill of ascertaining or prescribing what the safe working load of the machine or crane is to be. The only method is to put on the machine some load which is considered to be a safe working load, and there is a danger that an excessive load might be put on to the machine because it might be considered near to the testing load of the machine. We feel that if an Amendment of this kind is not accepted there may be a tendency to mark up the safe working load on the assumption that that is much nearer to the testing load, with the result that operations may be carried out, not merely special operations, but ordinary day-to-day transactions, which might involve greater risks. I have dealt with the matter in some detail because it is technical, and I think the Amendment might well be added to the Bill.

Mr. O. Evans

I beg to second the Amendment.

6. 11 p.m.

Mr. E. Smith

I would appeal to the Under-Secretary not to accept this Amendment. I should like to repeat what I have said as to my experience in regard to factory inspectors and other officials whose duty it is to watch these things. If there are any public officials in this country who try to carry out their duties to the best possible extent, it is the inspectors who go to the factories and workshops to examine these machines. The Amendments which have been moved by the Home Office have been intended to tighten up the regulations and improve the Bill, but the Amendment now before the House, although the Movers may not be conscious of it, would weaken the regulations and the Bill. The report of the factory inspectors for 1935 shows that there were 2,690 accidents in that year caused by these kinds of machines. Year after year the factory inspectors and the Home Office have set themselves the task of reducing these accidents, and it has only been by the tightening up of the regulations that: these accidents have been reduced. Yet we have a proposal made to-clay which would weaken the object of the officials and the Department.

It is a common practice in factories for cranes and lifting tackle to move anything from 30 to 50 tons, certainly much more than the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) suggested. I prefer to understate rather than over-state the case, in order to secure the support of the House for the rejection of this Amendment. It is a common thing to see large weights, turbines, moulds, etc., being moved about while men in the foundries or machine shops go on with their work with complete confidence, and without any interruption in production. That is because the men who are working under these cranes which are lifting these weights have complete confidence in the slinger. They have confidence because it is the duty of the manufacturer of the lifting machines and cranes to indicate quite clearly on the lifting machines and cranes the maximum weight that they may lift. If we undermine the provisions which have brought about that confidence on the part of the men, we shall create lack of confidence, and the result will be to retard production and create unnecessary friction inside the shops. Although we are not satisfied with the Bill, because we believe it is lagging behind public opinion. we say that, let us not be responsible for weakening it, but rather let us maintain the confidence of the work-people and thereby maintain production, realising that they have confidence because there is a clear indication of the weights that may be lifted.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) has made an interesting point with regard to the attitude of the men in a factory. But this is really a matter of some difficulty. Everyone will agree that if we were starting to examine this question there is theoretically the possibility that if the safe working load of a lifting machine is carefully estimated it would be a great convenience under proper safeguards and in special circumstances to give permission for this exception—

Mr. George Griffiths

That is rather a risk.

Mr. Lloyd

Theoretically it is the kind of case under the Docks Regulation Act, but it must be under very exceptional conditions. In the docks you are dealing with important dock authorities, and the lifting machines and cranes, which are generally well constructed and maintained, are under the supervision of well trained engineers. That makes a good deal of difference. It may be that in big and technically well conducted companies in the country similar conditions exist, but I must point out that the Amendment would have a general application to all factories, and we cannot rely upon the same standard of maintenance being maintained on these lifting machines, or the likelihood of there being a person sufficiently well qualified to judge as to the safety of the overload of a machine. I recognise that the hon. Member has endeavoured to meet that point by requiring the written permission of the maker of the machine.

Mr. White

We think that the maker of the machine is the best man in the world to say what the machine can do.

Mr. Lloyd

I am advised that the maker of a small lifting machine is just the man who is not in a good position to advise whether the machine can safely be allowed to take an overload in particular circumstances. If these lifting machines have been in use in factories for a considerable time one does not know the condition of their maintenance. The position of the Home Office is that, while we appreciate that there is a possibility in certain circumstances that this permission might be granted, as it is under the Docks Regulation Act, we feel that the Amendment is dangerous because it will allow a relaxation which might really be objectionable and dangerous in a considerable number of factories. We must have regard to the fact that while accidents caused by these lifting machines are not very numerous, when they do occur they are extremely serious. Therefore, we cannot accept the Amendment.

Mr. White

I should like to say that my intention in moving the Amendment was to strengthen the existing conditions relating to these transactions, but if the Amendment is so wide as to deal with these smaller machines I will not press it, and I ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.