I have not been involved in any incidents where my life was in danger during my time in any part of the steel industry. But unfortunately, accidents and fatalities do happen, and the strange thing is that in my time with Corus and Tata Steel over the last 10 years all of the fatalities have involved middle-aged men.
You could argue that working on the shop floor is always hazardous, and that middle-aged men may be over-represented in comparison with the population at large, but it is undeniable that the last few fatalities were all men in their late 40s and 50s.
- Hywel Thomas – aged 52 – Pontardulais – crushed by coil
- Bryan Robbins – aged 53 – Port Talbot – crushed by locomotive
- Kevin Downey – aged 49 – Port Talbot – burnt in molten slag channel
- Robert Gillard – aged 46 – Port Talbot – crushed by tipper truck
- Michael Down – aged 64 – Port Talbot – dragged into milling machine
I sometimes wonder whether there’s a number of factors in common here. All of these people had been working in their respective jobs for a long time, and should have known their jobs inside out. All of them would have been fully aware of the hazards around them, and at least one of them (Hywel Thomas) was a safety representative. But I just wonder whether being in a job for a long time makes you slightly complacent because you become habituated to the risks of the job and feel that you can handle them because you’ve already done so for 20 years or more.
And then there’s the factor that the older you get you may think you’re still the same person as you were in your twenties, but maybe your reactions are a little slower, and maybe the likelihood of a senior moment becomes greater.
From personal experience, I had a moment like that, not in work, but whilst parking my car on the drive of our house. This drive slopes slightly towards the garage. I was a bit in a hurry because we were going to go to the movies and I was late getting home. Not sure exactly what happened, but I walked from my car to the front door and as I was about to use my key to open it, the car crashed into the garage door. For the same money I could have been crushed by my own car, and all because of a senior moment at the wrong time.
I just wonder how many of the accidents I listed above could have involved such an “oh shit” moment. I have no answer of what you can do to avoid this type of thing from happening; you can and try to eliminate risk as much as possible, but in a hazardous environment risk will always be there, and human frailty can become an additional factor, and possibly one that looms larger as you get older.