Steelworkers: “We don’t need bad publicity”

12 February 2016

Port Talbot steelworkers have spoken out after yesterday’s fire in Tata Steel’s coke ovens to condemn “negative” and “sensational” stories in the press.

A local photographer's photo, showing "bleeders" venting gas, and yesterday's Mirror and Mail Online headlines

A local photographer’s photo, showing “bleeders” venting gas, and yesterday’s Mirror and Mail Online headlines

Several steelworkers contacted the Magnet yesterday to express worries that sensationalised stories are bad for the steelworks at a time when they are already under pressure. This comes after January’s announcement that 750 jobs would be lost at the plant. Staff are currently in the midst of a 45-day consultation over the redundancies.

Reports in the media included the Mirror headline: “Huge explosion at Britain’s biggest plant sends flames shooting 100ft into air”, and a Daily Mail report which called the incident a “massive blast”, described steelworkers who “escaped with their lives” and said “flames could be seen for miles around as emergency services rushed to the scene”.

One steelworker, who asked not to be named, said: “Some of the things that were said in the media yesterday morning were just to get a sensational headline. The power went off across site just before 8am. The on-site power plant supplies the production units like the Blast Furnaces with electricity if the power coming in to the works is lost and enables them to shut down safely. It looks worse than it actually was but the plant is designed to vent and burn gases in the event of an emergency like the loss of power.

“The plant can do without any bad publicity at this time more than ever.”

Another said this was “a time when everyone is worrying about the plant closing and people losing their jobs.”

He added: “We are at a time of uncertainty and the future of Tata Port Talbot is under threat of job losses and potentially worse. We don’t need scaremongering by people on site, showing controlled emergency situations to the public, who may not understand what they are seeing. The release of pressure looks worse initially until the safety controls start to kick in. The flames are merely control measures to minimise the release of pollution to atmosphere.”

A local photographer also sent photographs showing chimneys known as “bleeders” venting ignited gas to relieve pressure.

Tata Steel confirmed yesterday that their early investigations suggested lightning had struck the plant’s power system, which resulted in the build up of foul coke gas, a by-product of the coke making process.

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Pamela Wilkins says:

I live VERY close to steelworks, was not even aware anything had occured