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Avonmouth workers ready to strike over unsafe conditions

NEWS

WORKERS ON the troubled Avonmouth Bridge strengthening project were threatening to strike this week over site safety and working conditions.

A meeting of Amalgamated Engineering & Electrical Union and GMB union members was planned for Wednesday. If managers from main contractor Costain and subcontractor Kvaerner Cleveland Bridge failed to act immediately to improve conditions, half shifts and walk outs would be staged, said AEEU spokesman Clive Herbert. He warned that full scale industrial action could not be ruled out.

Frustrations have been brought to a head by the tragic failure of an under slung maintenance platform last month, in which four men lost their lives (NCE 16 September). Workers are concerned that since then a catalogue of complaints concerning the standard of site facilities and safety procedures has not been addressed by managers.

'The men don't feel they're getting anywhere by being moderate,' said Herbert.

Costain and Cleveland Bridge were unable to comment on the situation. But a Kvaerner spokesman said there had been running disputes with 'a disgruntled element' in the workforce over pay and productivity.

Herbert claimed workers were troubled by management shortcomings which included failing to enforce maximum wind speed restrictions for working on suspended platforms.

'It was the norm to operate the gantries in high wind speeds,' he said.

Sources on site claimed that workers' concerns had been raised before the platform collapse over a recent move to train platers and welders in operating and maintaining the platforms.

Until four months ago specialist riggers were employed to move, make safe and maintain the platforms. Cleveland Bridge transferred the men to the Tamar Bridge at the end of May.

The platers and welders were given a thorough induction before the riggers left, said rigger Phil Ryan, now based at Tamar. But an Avonmouth source claimed that, in the view of many colleagues, operating the platforms was 'no job for a plater'.

Platforms had been operated by teams without a specialist before the riggers were drafted off Avonmouth Bridge.

But it is understood the four killed in the accident had only recently been trained.

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