On Wednesday last week, I was invited onto a BBC South news show that marked the sixth anniversary of the Didcot Disaster. The show was recorded remotely: a TV researcher in Oxfordshire; and me at home in Surrey.
While sound engineers were checking recording levels, the researcher asked why I had pursued this disaster with such regularity over the past 2,000+ days. That was easy to answer – The Didcot Disaster was the biggest and worst thing to happen to the industry in living memory.
Like any good researcher, he had a follow-up question: “So what do you hope to achieve?”
That was tougher to answer. There was the obvious: “To ensure that the families of Michael Collings, Ken Cresswell, Christopher Huxtable and John Shaw receive the explanation they deserve together with a degree of closure”.
There was the more industry-serving answer: “The demolition industry here and around the world needs to understand the precise circumstances that led to the catastrophic collapse of the Didcot A boiler house in order to avoid a repeat in the future”.
There was the more spiritual answer: “I believe there should be a permanent memorial to the four fallen men. Personally speaking, I don’t think that memorial should be at Didcot. What is the point of a memorial in a location that is already a permanent reminder of the demise of four working men?”
But with the passage of time, I realise that there is another answer to that question: an answer that might not be as important as treating the four men and their families with respect they deserve and of which they have been cheated; but an answer that could be more wide-reaching and that will likely echo in the years to come.
Back in 2016, when it had become clear that four men had lost their lives that fateful day, I was asked by a Sky TV reporter for my predictions on what would happen next. A part of my answer was based upon a report at the time that suggested that the Health and Safety Executive was taking – on average – four years to investigate a work fatality.
Based on that precedent, I predicted that we would not see any explanation or resolution before 2020.
It is now clear that my prediction was wildly optimistic. But it is also clear that, with the protracted and bloated investigation now entering its seventh year, the HSE has – deliberately or otherwise – set a new precedent; a new chronology; a new benchmark by which future investigations will be assessed and compared.
It is more than six years since that fateful day at the Didcot A Power Station, and the investigation remains ongoing.
On 7 July of this year, it will be six years since a wall collapsed at a scrap yard in Nechells, Birmingham, crushing and killing five workers. The company owners in that case are accused of health and safety offences and are set to stand trial in October this year.
While we were all focused upon the collective shock, grief and anguish of the loss of life in these two incidents, the Health and Safety Executive was quietly lowering the bar of expectation.
Like 60 is the new 40 and orange is the new black, six is apparently now the new four.
So my new answer to that question: “What do you hope to achieve?” is this.
To avoid eight or even 10 becoming the new six.