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Construction must share the lessons from Didcot

I visited the Didcot A Power Station demolition project twice in July 2014.

Once to meet the project team and get a tour of the site in my hometown, and again a few weeks later to see the blowdown of the south cooling towers.

“He spoke of the difficulty of trying to console the families – as well as his own concerns for the future of the business”

Last Wednesday, the day after the partial collapse of the boiler house, I visited for a third time, in utterly different circumstances.

As I made the 15-minute walk around from train station to the Didcot A site entrance, I noticed that the surrounding roads were full of cars and TV trucks. It was attention that Didcot isn’t used to, and while the media interest in the blowdown in 2014 was intense, this was on a different level.

Heavy burden

I returned the following day at the invitation of Coleman & Company MD Mark Coleman, who chose Construction News for his only interview. We spoke in an RWE technical support building, only a few hundred metres from the partially collapsed boiler house where we knew one man had lost his life and three more were missing.

There were a number of people walking around, all working diligently and calmly to do their bit to support the rescue operation that is still ongoing. A number of Coleman employees sat in their PPE in another room, taking a break, all sitting quietly as I walked through.

Throughout our two-hour discussion, Mark remained composed – but his eyes were bloodshot and betrayed the face of a man who hadn’t slept much.

It was clear how heavily this was weighing on him. He spoke of the difficulty of trying to console the families of those involved – as well as his own concerns for the future of the business.

Safety focus

When I made my first visit to the site in 2014, Coleman & Company’s commitment to safety had been clear. The team talked me through the painstaking preparations for the blowdown, the precision engineering that had gone into ensuring the towers came down in a controlled way.

“This project can leave an important legacy, even in the face of such a tragedy”

Interest from the public and the media had been intense, with pressure from many different stakeholders to provide public viewing areas and to hold the blowdown in daylight hours so that people could have a better view.

Coleman & Company stuck to its guns, holding the blowdown at 5.01am and not providing any viewing area nearby – all with public safety in mind. It carried out a safe and successful blowdown.

Speaking to demolition experts in the aftermath of this incident, they have been clear to emphasise Coleman’s reputation for its strong safety ethos and a track record of successfully completing highly technical, complex jobs.

Above all, this is a human tragedy. Four people have lost their lives, and our thoughts must be with the families and friends of those who are gone.

Mark Coleman said it was one of his “ambitions in life” to demolish Didcot A Power Station safely –that ambition has now sadly gone.

But his desire to share the lessons with the industry is important and means this project can leave an important legacy, even in the face of such a tragedy.



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