Interview: Life at the top of a tower crane
Merseylink’s tower crane team is playing a key role in the construction of the three Mersey Gateway bridge pylons, which dominate the skyline in the Mersey estuary.
We asked lead tower crane operator, Peter McDonough, a few questions to find out what it’s like to work with your head literally in the clouds.
Lead tower crane operator Peter McDonough, from Woolton in Liverpool, has been working on the Mersey Gateway Project for over a year, driving the project’s tallest tower crane at the south pylon.
Peter heads up a team of 12 highly skilled tower crane drivers who are employed by MPS Crane Operators, a specialist lifting organisation that supplies professional crane drivers all over the world.
They spend their work shifts at up to 500 feet above the River Mersey – the equivalent height of 32 double decker buses stacked on top of each other.
Peter has been talking to us about what it’s like to work from the dizzy heights of a tower crane cabin.
So Peter, what’s it like working so high up off the ground?
It’s great. It’s quiet and peaceful with the most incredible views. The view from this job is the best I’ve ever had, you can see for miles.
How long have you been working as a crane driver?
I’ve been driving tower cranes for 18 years. Before that I worked in construction as a banksman and a slinger where I often covered for crane drivers, so I suppose it was only natural that I ended up driving tower cranes.
What skills and qualifications do you need to do the job?
You need a CPCS licence as a bare minimum. I did my training at the CITB National Construction College in Bircham Newton. The course teaches you how to control the machine safely, manage lifts and operate effectively.
What about personal attributes?
I’d say you also need a head for heights, common sense, and the ability to be flexible.
The tower crane is nearly 500ft high – how do you get up there?
I climb up. There are around 520 steps and on a steady climb it can take around 25 minutes, but there are rest platforms where you can catch your breath.
Do you ever feel scared up there?
No, the height doesn’t bother me at all. It’s the safest place to be on a construction site. That’s not to say it isn’t dangerous but you’re out of the way of everything.
What are the tower cranes being used for?
The tower cranes lift, transfer and place various materials and equipment such as reinforcement cages, formwork and the steel stay cables.
What does a shift involve?
Before starting work we have a pre-shift briefing at the base of the crane. Going up the ladder I do visual safety checks, checking the pins, bolts, structure and ladders on the crane. When I get into the cabin I complete a thorough safety checklist to make sure that everything is working correctly. I then radio down to confirm that everything is safe and operational and the day’s work will begin.
What’s the best thing about the job?
Being from Liverpool I really wanted to get on the project as it’s local to me and I knew it was going to be high profile. It’s a fantastic job. The engineering expertise is just phenomenal and we have a great team of people that support one another.
Anything you don’t like?
Getting up to the cabin is the hardest part. It’s not easy or pleasant on a cold, wet morning!