Diary of an engineer: Falling on deaf ears

Submitted by AWL on 5 May, 2020 - 7:33 Author: Emma Rickman
Engineering plant

This week access to the control room and the manager’s offices is more restricted. Lack of contact with Ops and the assistants means no information about bin wagon drivers is coming through to us, although the email from the union suggests drivers are almost at breaking point:

“We have requested an additional payment (Covid Clear up) for the increased weights that are coming through and also the risk of infection. This fell on deaf ears locally so the union will be raising it nationally this week.

“We cannot hold a mass meeting at the site due to social distancing but it is important that we use all forms of social media to communicate with each other...

“Let the reps and convenor know what the problem is and they will deal with it. Any industrial action that takes place on-site will be illegal and individuals may be held responsible. Tempers are running high at the moment but it is important that you keep your cool when speaking with supervisors and management.”

I’m working closely with the electrician P, who has overcome his terror of the coronavirus by doing a short course in microbiology. As a result we can share a workshop and work together — we get on well.

His opinion is that the city manager is a sociopath looking to cash in on Covid-19 by getting as much waste through the ERF [Energy Recovery Facility] weighbridge as possible. The city manager and our head of operations have had stand-offs, turning bulker lorries of waste away at the gates, only to receive three the following morning.

Rumours are that waste incinerators in the south don’t have enough waste to keep running, but the power stations in Yorkshire are overwhelmed. This is clearly a distribution problem.

Within the maintenance team social distancing has gone out the window. We’ve found it impossible to stay two metres from each other while working in the same electrical cabinet, changing light fittings or in the narrow switch room corridors.

Most of our work has been routine inspections, but we’ve had a lot of trouble with the cranes. Their constant operation is fundamental to the plant, and mid-week Crane 1 developed an electrical fault which kept us busy for two days, and which I still only half understand.

As we move around the plant replacing control units in different crane panels, stopping and starting the programmable logic controller (the computer that tells the crane what to do), it accumulates faults.

Eventually we discover that the data must be “compiled” before upload, and the fault disappears. We hope it will not recur.

• Emma Rickman is an engineering apprentice at a Sheffield Combined Heat and Power plant.

Other entries in the “My Life At Work” series, and other workers' diaries

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