Freeports are a hot topic of discussion. The Teesside Freeport has gained national attention recently over the controversy surrounding the inner workings of Teesworks Ltd. This company is part-owned by South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) which is headed up by conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen. Teesworks and the STDC in conjunction with the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) are tasked with redeveloping the site located at the South Bank of the river Tees.
There have been many media reports during this redevelopment process, including the potential link to the marine die-offs (known locally as the ‘Teesside Ecocide’) happening on the coastline surrounding the Teesmouth. The impact on sea life has been catastrophic. Devastating local fishers’ livelihoods. No causal links have been found but there is interest in the land-based activity on the Teesworks site and whether that has contributed to the deaths. A new study is being carried out by local universities which will hopefully yield some significant results.
Whilst the plight of local fishers is ongoing and there is a clear need for an external investigation over the accounts at Teesworks Ltd, there also needs to be a light shone on the personal protective equipment (PPE) used on-site or seeming lack thereof.
Environmental impact assessment reveals a toxic cocktail of chemicals hazardous to human health
The site started phase one demolition work in August 2021 and phase two construction followed in September. An extremely quick turnaround for a site that is highly contaminated after 169 years of iron and steel industry on it.
In November 2020 an environmental impact assessment was carried out by Royal Haskoning DHV. It states that potential on-site contaminants include asbestos, metals and metalloids, PAHs, fuel and oil hydrocarbons, aromatic hydrocarbons, phenols, cyanides, ammonium, chlorides and sulphates, PCBs and inorganic compounds. Quite the toxic cocktail.
Of course, human health was taken into consideration, as it should be when working amongst this hazardous mix.
It states, “Given the historic uses of the site, there is a risk that any contamination present within the on-site soils or structures to be demolished could be mobilised resulting in risks to human health via a range of pathways”.
These pathways include “ingestion, inhalation and direct dermal contact”.
The assessment concluded that “with the adoption of embedded mitigation (i.e. implementation of a CEMP, adherence to best practice and guidance and use of appropriate PPE), impacts to human health would be negligible to minor adverse significance.” All good, right?
Mandatory PPE required onsite
Unfortunately, not all is as it seems. As reported by North East Bylines Julia Mazza said:
“None of the ten Teesworks demolition blow-downs had human health risk assessments, and planning permission was not required.”
You would hope to see anyone near this site wearing the correct PPE as outlined by the Health and Safety Executive and COSHH guidance. This includes respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to stop hazardous chemicals entering the lungs and stomach. There was a report done by Atkins Ltd which states:
“The following site minimum PPE & RPE Requirements are recommended, however specific requirements are to be set out within the relevant method statements appropriate to each task.”The PPE required is as follows:
- Cut resistant gloves
- Safety boots
- Light eye protection
- Safety helmet
- Hi-vis vest/jacket or overalls.
- P3 filtered half masks
As you can see P3 filtered half masks are a minimum requirement. This would protect against airborne contaminants.
Another site contactor Thompsons of Prudoe Ltd reports that mandatory minimum PPE includes:
- Hard hat (BS EN397 – Thompsons supplied only)
- Light eye protection – EN166F
- Overalls or jacket and trousers (with hi-viz panels or hi-viz vest)
- High visibility jacket/vest- EN471
- Safety boots (EN20345 Anti-Static – incl. reinforced toe cap and mid-sole)
- Gloves – EN388 – Specific to task, cut resistant 5 puncture resistant 4
This list is the basic requirement for PPE on-site. Note the light eye protection – EN166F. These are safety glasses that can withstand hazards that contribute to eye damage.
Both reports require minimum PPE to include safety boots.
Is Conservative Mayor Ben Houchen impervious to safety risks?
It begs the question why Mayor Houchen, pictured here, would stand on-site with no safety boots? One would hope he had been through Teesworks site induction that is mandatory for visitors, contractors and HGV drivers. Will his shoes be decontaminated prior to leaving the site?
Let’s fast forward to October 2021 during the excavation of land on the South Bank of the River Tees. Dust and particulate matter were undoubtedly being kicked up into the air because of ‘spades in the ground’ action; potentially including the cocktail of hazardous chemicals mentioned previously. One would expect someone near this excavation work to be wearing full PPE including a respirator and eye protection.
Alas, here we see Houchen wearing only a hi-vis jacket and hard hat near an active digger with no respiratory protective equipment or protective eyewear. Again, has the Tees Valley Mayor been through the Teesworks site induction? One might forgive Houchen for his lack of PPE because of his clear commitment to public relations. Although due to asbestos being found on site in the soil samples taken by Arcadis Ltd, Houchen may want to reconsider his tactics. It takes just one particle of asbestos to enter the lungs which can lie dormant for years before going on to trigger cancer such as mesothelioma, which is terminal.
What PPE is being used?
It begs the question. What PPE are site workers wearing in this hazardous zone? Cursory drone footage has yet to yield images of workers wearing respirators or eye protection. If these items are no longer needed on site, where is the directive indicting so? Looking at other local demolition in the area WOODSmith Construction pictured below are wearing protective eyewear during their works at Middlesbrough Railway Station.
What is truly going on with health and safety at the Teesworks site?
The Teesworks site has been a quagmire of health and safety incidents over the years. In September 2019 two workers tragically lost their lives in a demolition explosion on the former steelworks site. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation was opened but unfortunately there still aren’t any answers for loved ones.
A freedom of information request to the Tees Valley Combined Authority also tells us that there were 17 health and safety incidents on the site from 1 November to 31 December 2020.
More recently, in December 2021, a worker had to smash their way out of a submerged excavator that had slipped down the bank into the river Tees on the site. HSE did open an investigation into the incident and North East Bylines have contacted them for an update but unfortunately there has been no response.
Moving on to present day. Footage obtained from Grecko Indie Media shows the poor execution of water jets that are used to supress dust during explosive demolitions. Here we see the Redcar coke ovens screenhouse being brought down and what can only be described as a gigantic plume of dust and smoke particles being blown inland towards Redcar. Anyone looking at this would be grasping for a respirator and eye protection.
Video by Grecko Indie Media
Four-year-old boy visits Teesworks site
What else has been happening on site recently? Well, just this month a four-year-old child was invited on-site. Yes, you did read that right. A four-year-old boy was brought onto the Teesworks site to “look where the blast furnace once stood and getting hands-on with some heavy machinery.” Now, one would hope that this small precious child would be wearing even the most basic of PPE. You can see photos on Houchen’s facebook.
No, not even a hard hat.
If PPE isn’t provided for the most precious of all beings. Then what hope do the site workers have?
International Workers’ Memorial Day
From Unison’s website:
“Statistics show on average the 135 workers are killed in work related accidents each year. It’s also estimated that there are around 13,000 deaths each year from occupational lung disease and cancer caused by past exposure at work to chemicals and dust.
“On 28 April each year International Workers’ Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have died. Workplaces across the country will be marking the day with events or a minute’s silence.
“Be safe at work, join a union.”