Industry: water, steel & energy

Gee, Kevan (2 of 4). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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  • Recording date

    2015-03-11, 2015-03-12

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Rugeley

  • Interviewees

    Gee, Kevan, 1945- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 2: Comments about KG decision to get job at Rugeley Power Station: enjoying work on farm and milk round, in spire of 6 day working week; concerns over future of milk rounds; KG brother in law and father in law working at power station, suggesting KG apply for job; KG reconsidering future as his family grew; recent commissioning of Rugeley B power station; much employment in area at time and odd shift patterns making it difficult for power station to retain workers; operations staff plant attendants' role not requiring specific qualifications; KG tutored by brother in law for interview. [04:20] Story about interview panel with operations superintendent Harry Platt: KG questioned about milk round; shift working offering better conditions that milk ground; taxing technical questions; Harry Platt's quest for a new breed of more flexible plant attendant able to take on a variety of roles; outline of traditional specialisation and demarcation of operations staff between different types of equipment; contrast of Platt highlighting technical demands of work, Operations Foreman highlighting its dirty nature; Harry Platt search for more adaptable staff. [11:55] Remarks on terms and conditions of job at power station: minimal increase in pay, but improved working hours and holidays; KG apprehensive, but reassured by brother-in-law explaining he would be roaming the plant in his work not tied to one location. [13:30] Comments on first day at power station: induction, health and safety talk; issuing of helmets and clothing; initially working on day shifts; KG not finding work hard; huge size of plant, dirt, noise; clear hierarchy between different grades of staff compared to previous experience, difference shown to senior staff, split of facilities between engineers and industrial staff; gradual easing of social barriers at Rugeley B as new staff were brought in. [18:05] Remarks on: operations superintendent Harry Platt; operations staff needing flexibility to cope cope with unexpected occurrences, maintenance departments more systematic in dealing with technical problems; anecdote about disparaging banter between different departments, mechanical maintenance known as gorillas, operations staff known for temporary fixes to keep things running; operations staff viewing role as keeping station running at all costs. [22:10] Description on duties of plant attendant: paroling plant, lubricating, checking, looking for problems; cleaning river water filters; keeping plant running; operators roaming whole power station, except for coal plant; plant not very reliable at first. [25:00] Remarks on differences between CEGB power stations: KG training with people from other stations revealing how varied the CEGB's equipment was; CEGB trying new types of equipment at different stations, sometime leading to reliability problems, no stations exactly alike, government supporting industry through CEGB; outline of novel type of dry cooling tower employed at Rugeley A, which wasted less water. [28:00] Remarks on: good CEGB training, emphasis on being in vital industry, large amount of manpower and technical expertise on site to deal with any issues; many problems on new plant at Rugeley B at first, major modifications required, examples of feed heater problems and having to dig out malfunctioning coal mills; Harry Platt's strategy of flexible and technically skilled operators occasionally thwarted by manual labour involved; KIG adapting well to work after farm work, enjoying the variety. [31:50] Remarks on health and safety: safety culture limited in early years compared to later; hearing protection optional, anecdote about Harry Platt's opinion of ear defenders, ear defenders later compulsory, many staff suffering hearing loss; KG not badly affected by hearing loss; KG thinking safety culture good; hard hats sometimes not work; gloves and other protective clothing available but optional; machinery guarded, but guards sometimes removed leading to accidents; sound permit to work safety system; apprentices tutored into good safety culture; operations staff less bound by safety culture in quest to keeping plant going; [36:20] example of potentially hazardous clearing of hot dust jams in dust plant; description of ad-hoc clearing of jams in the crushers in the ash pant; occasional accidents; description of fatal accident during clearing hot dust from hoppers; [40:10] contrast of strict flowing of safety rules by maintenance staff, such as Brian Moore, with laxer attention to safety by operations staff; anecdote about operations staff being considered cowboys by maintenance staff. [41:50] Remarks on training: much safety training; operations staff well trained how plant worked and in fire fighting. [44:50] Remarks on unions: union membership not compulsory but most people joining one; KG membership of General & Municipal Union [G&M]; strong union presence and many shop stewards on site; some union actions quite petty; such as works to rule over minor issues; solid union officials working well of their members, but a few people using unions to peruse petty grievances; work to rules potentially brining plant to a halt as work more varied than it was described; pay and conditions improving grammatically due to union strength; union opposition to de-manning and management push to efficiency. [50:30] Remarks on pay: payment and productivity schemes seemingly making little difference, seen as a way of getting more pay for workers; minor effects on KG work, some staff working to rule of schemes; extra money for working in wet conditions. [53:00] Remarks on Rugeley A: little ongoing interaction for operations staff, some maintenance staff moved between plants for refits; station. [54:00] Comments on typical day: KB enjoying shift work as it provided time for other things, some people having part time jobs; variable start of working day; clocking in, operations supervisor outlining extra duties, most of job taken by routine checks, which completed quickly; anecdote about operations staff spending much time making tea in mess room after completing work, to disapproval of maintenance staff; mix of peaceful steady work and frantic action to fix problems; operations and some engineering management happy for staff to waste time after their designated work was done as long as they were there for emergencies; KG enjoying spending time visiting control room to chat to operators; [59:45] basic work of routine checking, cleaning and greasing, anecdote about more cleaning after bonus system scheme; anecdote about maintenance staff needing plant clean before working on it; mentions napping in mess rooms on night shifts allowed sometimes; Charge Engineer Brian Wilson anxious for staff not to keep busy and not be idle; KG preferring to keep busy on night shifts; [1:02:45] anecdote about spooky nature of deserted power station at night; levels of power station graded by height, 200ft tall boilers, some staff finding heights difficult. [1:05:45] Remarks on: excellent canteen with choice of meals, rarely enjoyed by Operations Staff who did not have the fixed break times of maintenance staff; anecdote about maintenance staff opinion of operators. [1:07:15] Remarks on miners' strike: KG joining Rugeley B in 1973; Rugeley well prepared for 1980s miners strike; mentions three-day week and picketing; A station more effected than colliery belt supplied A station; installation of hydrogen plant and extra fuel oil capacity to increase station independence by time of 1980s strike; colleague having his gates stolen by mining neighbours during strike, some unpleasantness in local community; power station unions taking no action to support miners. [1:11:00] Remarks on 1980s miners strike: Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill's approaches both disliked; sympathy to miners at start of dispute; moderate miners in difficult situation, miners not balloted over strike action; strong sense of community amongst miners devastated by outcome of strike; good natured picketing on power station; concerns that miners might sabotage equipment, leading to staff having to patrol site. [1:15:00] Remarks on concerns over IRA [Irish Republican Army] terrorist attacks c1980s: anecdote about lacklustre response to hoax bomb warning. [1:17:00] Further remarks on miners strike: strong trade unionists supporting sympathetic action in support of miners; huge coal stocks at Rugeley; uncomfortable nature of time, KG cycling to work without problems. [1:19:20] Remarks on life outside work: KG first marred home; KG and family living in caravan whilst building a house 1980s; KG impulse to build his own house, against wife's worries; outline of mortgage arrangements; difficulty buying house at first, few working class people owning own houses at time; KG father fortunate in getting fixed rate mortgage in 1950s for new home; increase in mortgage rates; KG taking out endowment policies as a route to get a mortgage; difficulties getting mortgages in past; KG first home and mortgage; KG milk round salary stretched by mortgage, rising inflation and wages creating favourable situation for mortgage holders in 1970s.

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