On the 19th September 2019 my husband John Mackay suffered a horrific death, killed while working for Nationwide Platforms Loxam as a platform operator on the site of the former SSI steel works (now Teesworks) in Redcar Cleveland.
Teesworks was, at the time, a government-owned, “arms lengths“ company specifically set up to oversee the management of the former SSI Land including keeping the site SAFE.
I still find it hard to believe that he was given a job, a location and, a time to report without any knowledge of what the job involved. This is a Top Tier COMAH site, he was expected to carry out whatever work was required without the necessary training in demolition defies belief. John had no knowledge or experience of such sites he had no formal training on demolition or decommissioning, he was only given a site induction.
He was then used to assist and carry out demolition works, he was not a demolition contractor he was a platform operator.
John’s employers Nationwide Platforms were hired by demolition contractor, JF Hunt who had been awarded the contract to carry out demolition works on ammonia scrubbers vessels. JF Hunt were the cheapest tender of £99000, the highest being Technical Demolition Services with a tender of £338000 but would be using a cold cutting gear process, not HOT works.
We have been informed that oxyacetylene, a hot works process was being used on the Ammonia Scrubbers vessels to remove furniture and then used to burn openings to have a look inside.
An off the cuff decision that was made that day to carry out the work in that way. In my view this led to the major catastrophe that killed my husband and JF Hunt employee, Tommy Williams.
In the words of witnesses “it was like a jet engine roaring” and they feared that the whole site was going to blow up and ran for their lives. The vessels must have contained so much chemicals that the initial first blast was heard and seen for miles, followed by several more explosions.
The fires burned for weeks as there was so much fuel.
It shocked me to discover that Oxyacetylene (hot cutting) was used on vessels that could have contained Benzole, Napthalene, Tar, Ammonia when in production, all ran through the vessels with creosote, petroleum oil, all of which are obviously flammable and highly dangerous substances.
Two men were instructed to carry out work on these vessels it appears to me that inadequate tests had been carried out to establish what the true contents of the vessels were, if such tests had been carried out, prior to the two men being sent up to carry out work they should have discovered the levels of highly combustible substances remaining in the vessels.
We, as a family continue to seek answers to our questions but have been given very little information as to why or how these decisions were made.
But we are continually told “as it’s an ongoing investigation the information given to us is very limited”.
To make our frustration worse we have witnessed JF Hunt and other demolition contractors involved on this site receiving substantial financial penalties for collusion to rig bids.
The fines imposed on JF Hunt and others were Brown and Mason (£2,400,000), Cantillon (£1,920,000), Clifford Devlin (£423,615), DSM (£1,400,000), Erith (£17,568,800), JF Hunt (£5,600,000), Keltbray (£16,000,000), McGee (£3,766,278), Scudder (£8,256,264) and Squibb (£2,000,000).
After four very long difficult, emotional and stressful years we are very upset, disappointed and confused as to why it has taken take four years for the police to hand over primacy to the HSE after recaching the conclusion their investigation cannot produce evidence to support charges of corporate manslaughter charges against the company or gross negligence manslaughter against any individuals.
Now, in light of that decision, who knows how long it will take for us to discover who really is responsible and who will be held accountable for the loss of two hard working men’s lives, we just feel no one really cares and their deaths have been swept under the carpet.
Ann McKay Lynch