Thursday, November 22, 2001

Trouble blew up on Sellafield's big construction site when fears that a scaffolder could have been electrocuted led to wildcat strike action.

About a hundred men working for two construction companies - Interserve and Balfour Kilpatrick - went out on strike last Friday in an angry mood claiming that the scaffolder's life had been put at risk.

The incident happened inside the new BNFL Dry-pac plant for treating old radioactive waste.

The men were incensed when a 30-ton crane was allowed to operate in an area where a scaffolder was dismantling a scaffold tower. They claimed he was in potential danger because part of an overhead power line was still live.

Although they returned to work on Tuesday, it was on the initial insistence that the BNFL-employed safety officer should be transferred to another part of the site but this was later dropped.

A spokesman for the men said: "Both the scaffolder and the rigger had permits to work. One stated that the electric power was switched off from a 52-ton crane on the same nine metre level as the 30-ton crane being operated by the rigger.

"The scaffolder thought that the power line had been isolated but part of it was still live. The danger was that he could have been electrocuted - fortunately both the scaffolder and the rigger saw what was happening and stopped working.

"BNFL has said since that the distance between the tower and the power supply was a safe limit but we feel that because he was moving poles around the limit could have been breached and this man put at serious risk.

"We held a meeting after the incident and concerns were raised about BNFL's attitude towards the contractors' safety policy. We voted for industrial action and also to return to work on Tuesday morning. The men lost confidence in the safety supervisor and said they wanted him removed to another job but after hearing his explanation they are not pursuing this. We are having a meeting with the BNFL clerk of works to try and improve the permit to work situation and also discuss other issues."

BNFL said yesterday: "There was a misunderstanding about the rules for working beneath cranes. We investigated this immediately and no safety rules were broken. Once the position was clarified the individuals concerned returned to normal working."

n Contractors are also upset by BNFL's insistence that they have to wear eye-protection glasses at all times while they are working.

"We are under orders to wear these glasses seven hours a day and it is causing damage to people's eyes. We have complained until we are sick of complaining but to no avail," said the spokesman.

"We also don't think it is right contractors should have to bear the brunt of the new security measures. Our cars are stopped twice a day to have their passes examined by AEA police whereas BNFL workers don't have to put up with as many checks. Construction workers feel that, while they build Sellafield to the highest standards, they are being treated as third-class citizens."

BNFL said: "Everybody is subject to the same security checks as well as the same safety rules and procedures for wearing protective clothing in work areas."