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849 Safe use of lifting magnets

Report ID: 849

Published: Newsletter 56 - October 2019

Report Overview

A two-tonne lift using magnetic lifting equipment was abandoned, averting a potential high consequence event, says a reporter.

Report Content

A two-tonne footway panel lift using magnetic lifting equipment was abandoned, averting a potential low-probability high-consequence event, says a reporter. The number and safe working load of the lifting magnets, the centre of gravity of the panel, shackles, slings, lifting frame and crane load chart capacity were all reviewed and approved. However, the 7mm thick panel was less than the minimum material thickness required to obtain a ‘closed circuit’ and 100% magnetic clamping force. This significantly compromised the hold integrity of the lifting magnets. Without sufficient magnetic clamping force, the panel was dropped uncontrolled without serious damage.

The operation was reported as a close call noting that the lifting magnets hired required a minimum flat steel thickness of 60mm to achieve the one-tonne per magnet safe working load. The lift was abandoned until suitable lifting magnets were sourced from a different supplier capable of achieving the safe working load with the constraint of the 7mm thick panel.

The reporter points out that anyone who specifies a particular method of work is considered a designer under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. By proposing to source lifting magnets instead of fabricating lifting eyes to fit the panel, the contractor specified a method of work, effectively taking on the role of the designer, says the reporter.

The reporter aims to highlight the following key points from this incident:

  • During procurement, lifting magnet suppliers have a duty of care to inform the industry of the factors affecting the safe working load.
  • Air gaps, material type, contact area and material thickness affect the magnetic clamping force between lifting magnets and the load.
  • The capacity of the crane, lifting frame, slings and shackles are often checked in risk assessments and lifting checklists. Risk assessments and lifting checklists should be revised to allow for other available products in the market.
  • A holistic understanding of plant and equipment procured through hire companies along with the risks associated in their safe use must be communicated to the operatives on site.


It is fortunate that this event was a close call rather than what might have happened if the lift had proceeded. The report highlights a risk since non-specialists would be most unlikely to have the experience to understand constraints that might apply to this lifting methodology. An important but often overlooked safety mitigation measure is to have a prescribed exclusion zone so persons are excluded from any potential for fall during lifting operations.

Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) place duties on people and companies who own, operate or have control over lifting equipment. In most cases, lifting equipment is also work equipment so the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) will also apply (including inspection and maintenance). All lifting operations involving lifting equipment must be properly planned by a competent person, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe manner. The Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) website contains useful information on this topic.

The HSE published guidance on the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 which states that a designer is an organisation or individual, who:

a. prepares or modifies a design for a construction project (including the design of temporary works); or
b. arranges for, or instructs someone else to do so.

The document goes on to say that the term ‘design’ includes drawings, design details, specifications, bills of quantity and calculations prepared for the purpose of a design. Designers include architects, architectural technologists, consulting engineers, quantity surveyors, interior designers, temporary work engineers, chartered surveyors, technicians or anyone who specifies or alters a design.

Magnetic lifting is routinely and safely used in many industries, for example in ship building, where there is more familiarity with the methodology.


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