Anecdotes of a Chartered Chemical Engineer - work placement

My next recollection provides examples opposite ends of the spectrum.

Railway wagons were one of the main methods for both bringing raw materials into the plant and for moving large and heavy loads around the site. Railway engines were frequently not used, and the method known as fly shunting was employed. In this technique wagons were allowed to freely roll down inclined tracks to get to their assigned location for taking on or offloading materials. This is a potentially highly dangerous practice, and I don't believe would be allowed these days, however it was common practice then.

I remember being in the offices carrying out an assigned task, when word came in that there had been accident in the fly shunting area. I was dispatched to go and ascertain what had happened and report back. I had previously only been in very protected school and university environment and even when assigned to the plant was rarely allowed to wander around without a manager being present. So being sent out to investigate a potentially serious incident on my own was going to be a bit of a shock.

On arriving at the scene, I found one of the workers lying by the side of the rail track. He had been run over by one of the wagons which of course had little breaking, and were almost silent when moving.

The wheels had run over the lower part of his leg trapping it between the rail and wheels, as you can imagine it completely severed his foot from his leg. I still remember the sight of his boot still connected to his upper ankle by his long socks.

A very tragic accident, fortunately for there was little clear sign of injury, no blood or obvious trauma. As he was in a state of complete shock, he was not showing any signs of pain. The emergency medical staff had arrived very quickly and were providing first class care. However, it was a graphic introduction to the potential dangers of industrial environments and thank goodness it had not run over his body. I returned to the office, and I think made a garbled but just about coherent explanation of the incident.

This placement also delivered my first supervisory role. 

It was decided that all the junk in the area separating the coke ovens and the byproduct plant needed clearing up. It was clear to management that this was a suitable task for the young green trainee chemical engineer.

I was told to go and take charge of a small team who would use the steam crane to collect the junk onto a flatbed wagon and remove it from the area. The team consisted of the crane driver and his mate and a couple of riggers, the group of workers responsible for moving materials. Riggers were highly skilled in controlling and lifting large and irregular objects.

The work environment in those days was highly unionised and if anybody other than riggers would have managed the slings connecting the items to the crane’s hook trouble would have ensued.

It was an interesting afternoon and my first ever supervisory role. In hindsight I suspect that the workers themselves knew exactly what they were doing and probably did not need my attention.

I remember that it went very smoothly, despite me, rather than because of me I suspect, but it was good experience.