Aberfan Colliery Spoil Collapse


The Aberfan disaster which claimed the lives of 116 children and 28 adults in 1966 in the village of Aberfan in Welsh was deduced to be caused by water built up in the amassed rock and shale which unexpectedly slide downhill in slurry form. The disaster saw the mass movement of over 40,000 cubic meters of debris which engulfed Aberfan village and the primary school in minutes. The mining waste accumulated at a position that was directly above Aberfan for decades by the National Coal Board’s Merthyr Vale Colliery. The fateful day had been preceded by some heavy rainy days. The rainwater saturated the debris which eventually slides off thereby causing the catastrophe (McLean et al. 2009). This year marks 50 years since the tragic accident happened as  mothers continue to grief over the loss of  their loved ones (Johnston 2016).

The findings of a tribunal that investigated the causes of and conditions of the tragedy found and held the National Coal Board accountable for the disaster. The board acted in negligence to respond to warnings that had being raised from different quotas on the imminent danger that awaited the Aberfan village. The Board had promptly been warned that the piling of the unfastened soil and debris and the mining spoil was being done on layers of porous sandstone that comprised numerous underground springs. Moreover, the local authorities had aired their voice about the risk that the tip posed to the school. Despite all these warnings the National Coal Board management failed to respond to the concerns and warnings from any of those who foresaw the tragedy coming.

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Jacint, Jordana, and David (2004) assert that Alfred Lord Robens, the then chairman of the National Coal Board (NCB) dismissed the warnings arguing that the catastrophe was caused by ‘natural unknown springs’ and nothing could have been done to prevent it from happening. The proposition was not the tenable since the springs had been identified and had been mapped but the NCB still tipped there. The Aberfan inquiry team into the matter in effect stated that the Aberfan catastrophe could and should have been prevented if the necessary measures had been taken by the National Coal Board.

Moreover, there existed inadequate legislation governing mines, spoil heaps and quarry tips in the country which also significantly contributed to the disaster.  The legislation that was in force by then only protected mine workers at their place of work as well as colliery properties. Again, the legislation had no provisions that required that the organization concerned to report the incident to the HM Inspectorate of Mines and Quarries. However, immediately after the catastrophe, the government was quick to frame new legislation to fill the missing gaps in the law. The Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969 was put in place to cater for tips connected with quarries and mines by terming them as hazardous to the general public. If such legislation was in place, then the Aberfan tragedy could not have happened.

The events surrounding the Aberfan tragedy elicited a hastened need to be more concerned about the safety of constructions in the UK. There was an immediate need to focus on the location where buildings were to be erected. Construction managers, surveyors, and engineers were supposed to acquire the relevant training and knowledge on the essentials of soil mechanics and groundwater situations in addition to geology. The disaster led to the framing of the general legislation meant to govern health and safety concerns in construction sites for both the workers and for the public at large. Until the happening of the Aberfan catastrophe, there existed no legislation that could hold corporates accountable for corporate murder. The government made laws that could implicate corporates involved in business negligence capable of resulting to catastrophes that could potentially lead to the death and injury of members of the public.

Trenter and Charles, (1996) observe that as concerning developing construction in a colliery spoil, the government through the institution of civil engineers came up with strict rules and procedures, as well as, technological advancements for construction in such delicate areas. These include systems designed for analyzing the behavior of colliery spoils, the extent of compaction, site investigation for suitability of buildings structures and the ground treating with engineered fills. These procedures are meant to ensure that the ground is firm enough to gain the ability to hold the weight of constructed houses (Charles and Watts 1996).

Despite the Aberfan tragedy claiming many lives and destroying properties of the Aberfan village, the tragedy opened the door to the legislation of relevant laws that guide on public health and safety. Moreover, the tragedy was instrumental in cautioning the government on the need to be ready to deal with any disasters that may arise.

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  1. Charles, J.A. and Watts, K.S. 1996. The assessment of the collapse potential of fills and Its significance for building on fill Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Geotechnical Engineering, 119, 15-28.
  2. Johnston, J. 2016. Mothers bound by grief: 50 years on from Aberfan, the haunting stories of survivors and how parents of the 116 schoolchildren crushed by a coal tip found solace by meeting every week since.
  3. Jordana, J. and Levi-Faur D. 2004. The Politics of Regulation: Examining Regulatory Institutions and Instruments in the Age of Governance. Edward Elgar Publishing, pp.54-58
  4. McLean, I. and Johnes, M. 2009. Aberfan: Government and Disasters. Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press.
  5. Trenter, N.A. and Charles, J.A. 1996. A model specification for engineered title for Building purposes. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Geotechnical Engineering, 119, 219-230.
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