It Hasn't Happened - YET !
I believe one of the contributory factors to the disaster was this – It hasn’t happened – yet ! The tip had been there for years. There had been a large tip slide nearby in 1939, and the Aberfan tips had slid in 1944 and 1963. No real big trouble so far - why worry?
In hindsight of course this line of reasoning is absurd. The Aberfan incident is not unique in this respect.
30 June 2013, a Chinese sky lantern lands on a recycling plant in Smethwick, UK, causing a major fire, lasting several days. Tim Farron, a Member of Parliament had called for these lanterns to be banned in 2012. Not knowing where they might land, they can set fire to anything. They can be a danger to aircraft. Livestock might attempt to eat the decomposing remains of these lanterns. A ban was not put in place – no major disaster – yet ! The British government has yet to agree a ban. Maybe they are waiting for further disasters to convince them. (Yes, it happened once, but it may not happen again.) Because of the dangers, several countries banned sky lanterns from the early 21st century.
Late November 2012, St Asaph in North Wales suffered extensive flooding when the River Elwy burst its banks. 12 years previously the city came dangerously close to such a situation, but nothing was done to improve the flood defences - the need had not been proven.
- The Bethnal Green London underground station disaster, 3 March 1943 - during the second world war. The sirens had sounded, warning of an air raid. People were trying to go down the steps into the station for shelter. Someone tripped and fell – then people fell on top of each other. 173 people died in the crush; over 90 were injured. Prior to this event, the local council had asked permission to alter the entrance and put in a central handrail, but had been refused the funds by the government. Expenditure had not yet been justified ! After the disaster, handrails in the centre of the steps were installed.
This was particularly a tragedy because no air raid was taking place - the sirens were just giving a warning. May Hutchinson, a mother, later took her own life because she couldn’t live without Joan and William, her children - they died in the disaster.
A memorial has been established – the Stairway to Heaven. See www.stairwaytoheavenmemorial.org News of the tragedy was kept quiet at the time, to avoid propaganda for the enemy and loss of morale for the country.
There is a time to talk about such things – even after so many years.
- 2005 - Folkestone, UK, in a 7-storey block of 26 flats with a semi-underground car park (which has its own fire risks), most residents voted in favour of not talking about a fire alarm system for the following 5 years – how ‘ostrich’ can you get? ( We haven’t had any trouble so far – it hasn’t happened yet ! )
- The local fire brigade did make a clear recommendation that there should be a communal fire alarm system, but that was only a recommendation. No further discussion took place until the local fire & rescue service imposed many safety improvements following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London on 14 June 2017. Often it takes a tragedy to wake people up.
- In the same block of flats, it was suggested the large glass panes at the front entrance should be strengthened by transparent plastic film on the inside. The recommendation was declined – they hadn’t had any trouble so far with people falling against the glass and cutting themselves. (These glass panes were installed a long time ago, probably not up to the currently recommended strength.) Again, it hasn’t happened – yet ! This potential problem was later resolved with the installation of modern double glazing.
- I narrowly escaped becoming a victim of shelves collapsing in a hardware / DIY store in Windsor, UK. These shelves were only supported from the back. After the incident the store closed for refurbishment. When it reopened, all the shelves were additionally supported at the front. I saw a similar situation in a photocopy bureau where heavy reams of paper had been stacked on the shelves, only supported at the back. I pointed out the potential danger of the shelves collapsing. The response was – they hadn’t had any trouble – yet !
Many people expressed deep concerns about the tip which caused the disaster in Aberfan, but their warnings were ignored. Some disasters have not been so predictable.
The Victoria Hall disaster, in which 183 children were crushed to death, occurred in Sunderland, UK, on 16 June 1883 in the Victoria Hall; this was a large concert hall. The children stampeded towards the stage and the exit. The door had been opened inward and bolted, allowing only one person to pass through the doorway at a time. As a result of the disaster, it became law that public venues be fitted with a minimum number of emergency exits. It led to the invention of 'push bar' emergency doors which opened outwards.
Ok, we can’t always foresee potential dangers, but when they are identified – they should not be ignored !