IN SAFE HANDS

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - TOM HOUGHTON Re­porter tom.houghton@waleson­line.co.uk

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.”

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