A CRANE that caught fire Tuesday, before toppling over and narrowly missing hundreds of people was an accident ''waiting to happen,'' a union official said.
CFMEU state secretary Brian Parker said the crane was shut down a fortnight ago for four days over concerns that diesel was leaking from the crane's cabin.
Mr Parker said it was ''by chance'' that no one was injured or killed when the crane caught fire on the construction site at the University of Technology on the corner of Broadway and Wattle Street at about 9.45am. Union officials did a full inspection of the site about two weeks ago and closed it down for four days. ''We brought up issues about leaking diesel on the crane,'' he said.
It is understood the crane is owned by a Sefton company, Marr Contracting. It was then leased to Lend Lease, which employed the driver.
Lend Lease released a short statement confirming that a full investigation was being undertaken. ''We are working closely with relevant authorities and unions to evaluate the incident,'' said Christian Sealey, the company's corporate communications manager. He said the UTS site was regularly audited to ensure on-site safety.
Mr Parker said Lend Lease was responsible for maintenance, as the principal contractor, and they held the total duty of care.
He said workers had complained three weeks ago about the crane leaking oil, which was dripping onto their hard hats and clothes. The union asked Lend Lease to investigate the problem. Yesterday those drips may have caused the fire.
When fire crews arrived on the scene there were flames 10 metres high ''leaping'' out of the cabin 45 metres above the ground. Fire and Rescue NSW Acting Superintendent Josh Turner said the temperature in the cabin reached 1000 degrees.
The crane driver, who wanted to be known only by his first name, Glen, was heralded as the hero. A man of few words, he told Channel 10 that the ''fire just began, it just started''. He said the rest of the team was safe.
Glen, who is employed by Lend Lease, swung the arm of the crane so it would avoid Broadway, a major Sydney roadway, and the people below. Many onlookers commented how lucky they'd been that the arm of the crane had landed and fallen limp on top of scaffolding.
WorkCover NSW has announced a full investigation. A spokesperson described it as a ''very serious workplace incident, and it is fortunate no one was injured or killed''.
City worker Sean Nunan could clearly see smoke and flames from an office building on Goulburn Street.
''The crane was really burning … then suddenly the boom just gave way - [it] dropped as though the cable had snapped or given way,'' he said.
''The crane continued to burn quite furiously for the next 20 minutes and even now we can still see flames.''
About 100 people were evacuated from the work site and a further 100 people from surrounding buildings were evacuated. Cars and buses were rerouted to bypass Broadway, which was closed until mid-afternoon, causing delays in other parts of the city.
A spokesman for the Transport Management Centre, Dave Wright, said the only street that would likely remain closed until the crane was removed was Wattle Street, between Broadway and Thomas Street.