No-one should die for their living, union demands as rescuers seek end to Didcot tragedy
WORKERS should not be risking their lives for the sake of earning a living, furious unions said last night as Britain reeled from yet another industrial tragedy.
An out-of-use power station turbine hall collapsed without warning in Didcot, Oxfordshire, on Tuesday night, with one worker confirmed dead at the scene and a further three deemed “unlikely to be alive” as the Star went to press.
The coal-fired Didcot A station was closed in 2013 — but demolition workers were preparing for one of a few remaining buildings to be torn down.
“In 21st-century Britain, everyone should be coming home from work safe and sound at the end of the day,” said Ucatt general secretary Brian Rye. “There is no reason for it to be otherwise.
“We don’t yet know all the details of what happened at Didcot — but we need to know.
“Our thoughts are with the families of the workers who are dead, currently missing or in hospital.”
Tuesday’s collapse follows explosions at the steelworks in Port Talbot earlier this month and Cardiff in November, in which two workers died and four were injured.
Five further workers from the Didcot site were in hospital yesterday with serious injuries, as health and safety inspectors examined the scene.Forty-seven demolition staff were treated for serious dust inhalation.
Didcot is thought to be the worst construction incident since January 2011, when four workers in the Norfolk town of Great Yarmouth died following the collapse of a steel cage they were erecting.
The new collapse comes just 16 months after a major fire struck a cooling tower at the adjacent, gas-fired station Didcot B in October 2014 — cutting out the power supply for a million homes.
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service chief Dave Etheridge said the families of the three missing workers at Didcot A were “distraught” at the news.
“We have explained to them we have not picked up any signs of life but we are doing everything we can to locate their loved ones,” he said. “It is highly unlikely they are alive.
“We are currently using sniffer dogs, listening devices and drones and are looking at the possibility of deploying remote control probes into the structure to access the dangerous parts of the site.
“Progress has been slow, but we are making progress working through the debris. This exercise is going to be prolonged and very difficult.”
Despite progress on safety standards over the years, 35 construction workers died in the year 2014-15 — the most recent for which figures are available.
Last week the Star reported a dramatic slow-down in the number of companies successfully prosecuted for construction-related deaths.
Just 35 per cent of fatal accidents resulted in a conviction in the 2012-13, compared with 51 per cent in 2007-08.
“Our industry can be dangerous, we all know that,” said Mr Rye. “This is why it is paramount that safety guidelines are followed religiously by employers and employees alike.”
A spokeswoman for the Health and Safety Executive said it was “assisting the police and the emergency services.
The thoughts of all HSE staff are with the family of the person who has died and the families of those affected by the collapse.”