Workers' Diaries

Diary of an engineer: The other side of the blockade

The manager announces in the morning meeting that Extinction Rebellion have planned a day of action against incineration, and so the plant needs to prepare for a blockade. I’m surprised, I haven’t heard anything about this coming from the local group. V: “Where is this coming from?” G: “It’s on their website, and we’ve been warned by other sites. The council are considering closing the roads. But...” — he smiles and slaps the table — “we’ve got enough waste to keep us going for a two days at least.” D: “Got too much waste.” V: “So they’d be doing us a favour, in effect?” G: “If we can secure...

Diary of an engineer: The language they understood

While people at the Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) trace the origins of some illegally-tipped carbon fibre, I go to Nottingham to look at the processing of Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA). S, an operator who used to work in waste processing, kindly offers to come along to back me up. The yard is surprisingly small, walled on all sides by piles of ash. W, the head of operations, shows us the belt which loads IBA into their plant. He shows us a raised tunnel where unburned waste is dropped into a skip by picking workers. Me: “Can we see inside please?” W: “I’m afraid that’s confidential.” Me: “But...

Diary of an engineer: The tests are OK, but the workers aren't

The company that processes the plant’s “Incinerator Bottom Ash” call to return three loads, and say they are quarantining two more. The logistics company who do the deliveries are not able to tip, and they tell their drivers to stop collecting from us. I ask the company if they’re able to separate the unburned waste from the ash and return it to us, at our expense — she says no. This means that the plant is now producing Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA) continuously with nowhere to send it. The ash bay is very small, and it won’t take long before it’s full. The only way to stop producing ash is to...

Diary of an engineer: Incinerator bottom ash

To comply with our permit, the plant must burn waste hot enough and long enough to ensure that everything is reduced to ashes. Once the burn has finished, the smouldering ash is quenched in waste water then sent by conveyor belt into the ash bay. A magnetic belt removes ferrous metals from the ash and piles them separately. The black-grey gravel-like substance that remains is known as IBA — incinerator bottom ash. I’ve almost finished my apprenticeship, but in the meantime I’ve become a Compliance Technician. My job is to ensure that the plant complies with the permit issued by the Environment...

Diary of a trackworker: "We know best" management

These days, the incompetence of management really knows no bounds. For years, we’ve been asking for a safe way to work at height, and up until recently a sort of stand-off has developed. Our method had been agreed, bit of a botch, but everybody knew what they were doing and what was required regarding equipment and technique. However, somebody decided to make a name for themselves by deciding to to split the course where we learn how to climb safely into two courses. Strange, but it’s not unknown for these things to happen. Usually we just do both parts and everybody keeps working. So off go a...

Diary of a firefighter: Pumps off the run

P opens BOSS, an operation database. “What do we reckon then, gents?” It’s become a daily ritual – guess how many pumps (the frontline workhorse fire engine of the brigade) are off the run. The guesses come thick and fast, mostly between 25 and 40, although J, ever the optimist, plumps for 20. “33”, P informs us. It’s a shocking shortfall, but about average for recent months. And that’s just the pumps off the run, let alone pump ladders, aerials or any other specialist appliance. The brigade is chronically, woefully short staffed. At every change of watch, Resource Management Centre play a...

Diary of a Tube worker: “If you report it again, they might do something”

“I should have come in on the local really”, says another driver, as I stand on a platform. “He’s routed me here because I’m early but it doesn’t really make sense. I thought I’d get cancelled but there are gaps going west. If you get the stick [signal] first I’ll ask them [the passengers] to go across to you, alright?” “That’s fine”. But as I look at the next train coming in, I can see it isn’t mine. “You’ll need to tell him that, I must be the one behind”. “Bollocks, has he got the stick?” He looks up, yeah he has. “Right, I’ll tell them to get over”. I reckon I will be here for the next 5...

Diary of a firefighter: “Smoke issuing, persons reported”

It’s 11.50pm on a Thursday night. We’re getting ready to settle down to bed when the lights come on and the bells go down — we’ve got a shout. I drop my bedding in a heap, run out of the dorm and slide down the pole to the fire engine. You’ve got sixty seconds from the bells going down to the appliance having to be out the bay doors. I step into my fire boots and pull my leggings up by the braces in one movement. The guvnor comes round the corner from the watch room with the tip sheet in his hand. He shouts out to us: “Smoke issuing, persons reported”. My heart rate quickens. Persons reported...

Diary of a trackworker: Who knows best, workers or managers?

There are times when you feel like shutting down and letting management just completely fuck up as they go in circles trying to obey the latest “drive” for efficiency while not listening to us on the sharp end. One example. We have had a faulty cable for some weeks now which was due to be changed. A team went out, but found that the rules for changing said cable were conflicted, i.e. the tests were described for an old style cable, not for the new “plug and play” connectors. The first team reported this back, saying that they needed a certain bit of kit, and so the job was pushed back. Another...

Diary of an engineer: High tech and recycling failures

The Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility in Leeds is much taller than the plant in Sheffield, slicker and modern-looking. The whole power station is housed under a giant wooden archway and walled with thin panes of glass (identical, for those familiar with it, to the archway of Sheffield’s Winter Gardens, but ten times the size). One side of the 12-storey building is a beautiful vertical garden with its own irrigation system. R: “This garden costs the council £1,400 a month to maintain. But it’s part of the contract, it’s a public building.” The bin wagon parking area is an underground...

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