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What's it Like to Climb a Tower Crane?

LET'S get out of the studio I said.

Let’s show some of the incredible job roles construction has to offer, I said.

With the wind howling, my hands shaking and the tower crane I am clinging to gently swaying, I regret my words.

This is insane.

But this is how the thousands of men and women around the world who operate tower cranes go to work every day. It’s a critical job role that keeps construction sites moving and that enables many of the buildings you and I live and work in to be built.

This particular structure is a new nine-storey commercial and retail block on Farringdon Road in London. Designed by AHMM and currently being constructed by McLaren, the building is set to open in October 2018.

To maximise value from this modest piece of land in one of the world’s most expensive cities, the structure’s footprint occupies much of the site area. The project’s two tower cranes allow materials to be quickly and easily distributed across the site, negating the need for manual manoeuvring or access roads that eat space. They enable an efficient programme; reducing the amount of time that construction works take place for and the costs associated with preliminaries (site staff, accommodation, hoarding and the like).

Above: Nemesis. The tower crane that Fred climbed.

The crane I find myself clinging to has a “luffing-jib”; a 40 metre long boom that rises and falls to achieve complete coverage of the site whilst minimising the complications of over-sailing nearby properties. It can lift 4.8 tonnes at the end of its jib and as much as 12 tonnes at 17 metres, closer to the core of crane where I am climbing.

My destination is a small-cab some 42 metres above the ground. That’s about 11-storeys up, but it might as well be 100. I have a fear of heights.

I got through this by looking out at the view and concentrating on the words I was saying. The natural pressure of ‘cameras rolling’ also helped.

Above: Fred climbed the core of this luffing-jib crane up to the cab (circled). (Elevation courtesy of London Tower Cranes and McLaren).

When I reach the cab I meet Gary, a tower crane driver of 10 years who climbs like this as part of his commute. He told me how he likes the solitude and that time flies when he is busy.

The hardest part of his job? “Dealing with people who don’t know what they are doing” he answers.

Perhaps it’s time I left him to it.

As we turn to leave, Gary jokingly asks if I would like to climb further ladders up the boom or toward the crane’s ballast. “Nah you’re alright mate” I replied; politely disguising that I thought it was one of the stupidest ideas ever proposed to me.

The initial phase of my climb down was the hardest part of the experience. I hadn’t thought about this bit. 

As I slowly manoeuvred through the top of the tower and back onto the ladders, I was forced to look down at where I was putting my feet; and at all 42 metres of drop between myself and the ground.

Above: Fred on the ladders. 

Once on the ladder, I found the descent considerably easier than the climb. You can almost hear the confidence coming back into my voice with every downward step.

It really must be recognised that what I did here was tame. This was a mid-height tower crane sitting on the ground – those people perched in cabs above some of the world’s tallest buildings are truly in a different league.

"This is how thousands of men and women around the world go to work every day"

I have a new found respect for people that do this day in, day out. It takes skill, guts and a certain kind of dedication to your job. Our industry needs more excellent men and women like this.

The construction sector really is an incredible place to come and work. Many of the roles it offers are more exhilarating than any office job and its actions underpin the world that we all live our lives in.

So if you’re bored of your commute. Try this.

Do you have a daring tower crane for The B1M team to climb? Get in touch here.

This video was kindly powered by Viewpoint. Our thanks to McLaren for allowing us access to their site. We welcome you sharing our content to inspire others, but please be nice and play by our rules.


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