Comment – And now the wait begins…

I was busily adding some last-minute polish to the pilot episode of the new Construction Collective LIVE show yesterday, so the news of an industrial explosion in Avonmouth passed me by. By the time I emerged from what I laughingly call “the studio”, it had been confirmed that four men had lost their lives.

I don’t know whether it’s because we are fast-approaching the fifth anniversary of the Didcot disaster or the fact that – like at Didcot – four working men have died unnecessarily, but my thoughts turned immediately back to the tragic events of February 2016. And then, inevitably, my thoughts turned to the families of a combined total of eight men that went to work and never came home.

Sadly, even though we have learned nothing about the cause of the Didcot disaster in the near five years since the tragedy occurred, we are all wiser now.
We know that any recovery process will be painfully slow and that families will be kept at arm’s length throughout. We know too that the investigation that will undoubtedly follow will be protracted and that it will take place almost entirely behind closed doors.

In the meantime, the families of the men killed will get nothing. Oh they will get the pain of loss and grief that will come in waves and hit them broadside when they least expect it. They will – I hope – get the support and sympathy of those around them. And they will receive well-intentioned but ultimately meaningless platitudes from industry-watchers such as myself. But they will get no explanation until every last piece of charred steel has been analysed umpteen times. They will get no apology, lest that prejudice any future prosecutions. Worst of all, they will get no closure.

If we have learned anything from the Didcot disaster – and we have learned precious little – it is that the families of the four men killed at Avonmouth are unlikely to get any kind of meaningful explanation until at least 2025. The agony they are suffering today will continue; drawn out by a desire for a successful prosecution that will outweigh the needs of those suffering the most.

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive does sterling work at site level. The HSE’s inspectors police industry and make a major contribution to safety within the workplace. But the tireless work of those “bobbies on the beat” is undermined by the investigators and the bureaucrats that sit above them. HSE investigations are a black hole; a black hole that consumes everything but from which only weasel word official statements and prolonged grief is allowed to escape.

In just a few days time, eight families will sit down for Christmas dinner with a loved one now painfully and permanently absent.

For four of those families, their grief and their sense of loss will still be raw. For the other four, this will be the fourth time they will “celebrate” Christmas with an empty chair at the table. Their sense of loss will be no less sharp and no less painful.