Aberfan Disaster 1966
The Aberfan disaster was a catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, on 21 October 1966, killing 116 children and 28 adults. It was caused by a build-up of water in the accumulated rock and shale, which suddenly started to slide downhill in the form of slurry.
Over 40,000 cubic metres of debris covered the village in minutes, and the classrooms at Pantglas Junior School were immediately inundated, with young children and teachers dying from impact or suffocation. Many noted the poignancy of the situation: if the disaster had struck a few minutes earlier, the children would not have been in their classrooms, and if it had struck a few hours later, the school would have broken up for half-term.
Great rescue efforts were made, but the large numbers who crowded into the village tended to hamper the work of the trained rescue teams, and delayed the arrival of mineworkers from the Merthyr Vale Colliery. Only a few lives could be saved in any case.
The official inquiry blamed the National Coal Board for extreme negligence, and its Chairman, Lord Robens, for making misleading statements. Parliament soon passed new legislation about public safety in relation to mines and quarries.
This accident claimed the lives of 144 people.
- A National Tip Safety Committee should be appointed to advise the Minister and to co-ordinate research into the problem of tip safety and of bulk disposal of industrial waste products.
- The National Coal Board should continue to have prime responsibility in respect of all tips in its ownership.
- A standard Code of Practice should be prepared for consideration by the national Tip Safety Committee with a view to its being issued publicly and applied to all tips, whether in the ownership of the National Coal Board or otherwise.
- Her Majesty's Inspectorate, strengthened by the addition of qualified civil engineers and armed with additional statutory powers, should be made responsible for ensuring the discharge by National Coal Board officials of their duties in relation to tip stability and control.
- A local authority should have access to plans for tipping and reports on existing tips and, if not satisfied with them, should have a right of appeal to the Minister, who might appoint an independent expert to conduct an examination and make recommendations.
- Men engaged in the daily management and control of tips should be trained for their responsibilities.
Managers and surveyors should as soon as possible be made aware of the rudiments of soil mechanics and groundwater
conditions. The statutory qualifications for managers and surveyors should be amended to include awareness of the
rudiments of soil mechanics and hydrogeology, in addition to the geology already comprised in the syllabus.
Aberfan is arguably one of the worst industrial disasters the world has ever known. How can 116 innocent children be buried alive in their local school (as well as 28 adults killed by the collapsing waste dump)?
The Aberfan Disaster should be no surprise. In the years leading up to the disaster, a number of written letters of concern were presented to mine management with respect to the location of the dump and the potential impact on the village and school if there were to be a dump failure (as had occurred at other dumps). Despite those concerns, action had not been taken before the disaster.
The Aberfan legacy lives on today in the UK governments response to review Work Health and Safety in the years 1970-1972. The report to the UK Parliament (Roben's Report) is a blue print for contempoary workplace safety management. Its principals have stood the test of time and remain appropriate today.
There is nothing more sobering about workplace safety, as to consider the scenes of the Aberfan Disaster. The challenge for us all is to understand the lessons to be learnt and to implement the necessary processes to ensure the safety of all persons who may be affected as a consequence of our decisions. To not do so is to put the safety of others at risk.