IN SAFE HANDS
ACENTURY ago staff at the Mines Rescue Service (MRS) were tasked with saving the lives of workers caught up in emergencies down the pits. Now they give people working in dangerous, confined spaces crucial health and safety advice and training.
Based in Dinas in the Rhondda, the MRS prides itself on representing the resilience and ability of the Welsh to adapt.
It was opened in 1912 by King George and Queen Mary as MRS Training and Rescue.
“The team there had a job to respond to emergencies in the coal mining industry in the early part of the 20th century.
“One of the very first incidents the mines rescue workers had to attend was the explosion at Senghenydd which killed 439 miners in 1913,” said MRS marketing manager Julie Wilson.
She said in those days the centre worked in a similar way to a modern-day fire station and was one of many in Wales, with others in Crumlin and Swansea.
There would be 24-hour coverage on site and a five-man rescue team available for emergencies, with their purpose-built vehicles with equipment.
The format and workings of the centre remained similar right up until the 1990s, when the deep coal mines began to rapidly close and the British Coal Corporation was privatised.
Julie said that while some centres have closed in the past two decades, Dinas remained open as MRS changed in an attempt to meet the needs of modern-day health and safety.
It is now one of six similar centres across the UK that were all previously used for rescuing miners.
She added: “There were fewer and fewer f mining i ing disasters and requirements because there were fewer mines.
“It was about looking at diversification and staying alive.”
Now, while it still provides rescue cover for modern-day open-pit mines, the company uses its expertise and has branched out from underground mining.
It provides a range of health and safetyrelated products and services to a wide range of industries including nuclear, aerospace, manufacturing and utilities, training more than 1,700 people every year.
“People thought it would have closed when the mines closed but that’s not the case,” Julie said.
“Welsh resilience has come through and it’s meant the rescue station has remained.”
The skills of the 19 members of staff, who have experience rescuing people from mining disasters, are still put to good use in a range of ways.
Julie said there are still a number of fatalities every year of people working in confined spaces.
She said: “Recently a man who was cleaning a slurry pit slipped and fell in in. He was overcome by an atmosphere high in carbon dioxide and low in oxygen. Two guys working with him tried to rescue him but they ended up dying too and it was all because they didn’t have the correct equipment.
“If they had had environment monitors with them they would have known there was no way of surviving if they had gone into the pit.
“Another example is when power stations have an outage, when they shut the equipment down in order to do maintenance. That’s also high-risk, as they are taking something into that space like welding equipment and making it even more dangerous.”
She said people in the Rhondda seldom knew the MRS building’s purpose.
“A lot of people have no idea what goes on in these places. It has been there since 1912 but has not really changed its outward appearances over that time.
“A lot of people think it’s a museum or a shop, but it’s a very active training centre and certainly not a museum.”