With health and safety legislation being scrapped, HSE inspections becoming a minimum, HSE inspector numbers dwindling and local authorities being curtailed in their environmental health department staffing levels and pro-active inspections, the health and safety culture in the UK has been turned into that of the USA – no pro-active health and safety regime, just wait and watch as people are killed needlessly.
The headline of this news item refers to one of the worst disasters and health and safety failings to hit any community in Britain in the last century, at a time when health and safety legislation was at a minimum and the HSE did not exist.
At 9:15 on the 21st October 1966 the mining village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales lost a whole generation as a huge coal waste slag heap which towered above the village, collapsed and engulfed Pantglas Junior School as the children took their lessons on the last day of the school term. A farm and several houses were also buried causing the further loss of life of those within.
The TV pictures that appeared shortly after left a nation in shock and a town in Wales bereft and stunned with many of the villagers never recovering from the events of that day. Over 50,000 letters of condolence were received from all over the UK and Welsh ex-pats from all over the world.
In total, 144 people were killed - 116 of them children. This was about half of the children at Pantglas Junior School, with five of their teachers also being killed. It took nearly 7 days to recover the final body buried deep within the collapsed slag heap.
The National Coal Board which was responsible for building the slag heap in the first place, said abnormal rainfall had caused the coal waste to move.
In what is still the norm in this country whenever companies are responsible for deaths, the National Coal Board refused to accept any liability, despite the Inquiry of Tribunal later finding that the NCB was wholly to blame and should pay compensation for loss and personal injuries.
In a despicable move, both the NCB and Treasury refused to accept full financial responsibility for the tragedy so the Aberfan Disaster Fund had to contribute £150,000 towards removing the remaining coal tip that still overlooked the village!
This was finally repaid in 1997 on the instigation of Ron Davies, the then Secretary of State for Wales.
Once again the people suffering as a result of the complacent and immoral acts of big business and government, were the ones who have to pay for what has been done to them and to prevent it happening again.
As can be seen by so many disasters since 1966 nothing has changed in terms of the attitudes of business and Government in abdicating their responsibility for the health and safety of workers and of its citizens within communities across the country.
Could such a disaster on the scale of Aberfan happen to a community again?
Whilst this government dismantles the health and safety regime set up in 1974 following the Robens Report into workplace health and safety, the shadow of Aberfan hangs over us still in 2020; 52 years after 116 children and 28 adults lost their lives due to the actions of a complacent and immoral employer.
Source: BBC News Archive / The Aberfan Disaster Website / Unionsafety