Investigations are continuing into an explosion that killed four people at a wastewater treatment plant as it emerged that the victims included a man who had worked there for more than 40 years.
Tributes were paid to those who lost their lives in the explosion at the Wessex Water plant in Avonmouth, Bristol. Churches were opened, flags flown at half mast and local political leaders held a minute’s silence.
Police have yet to confirm the identities of the victims. But one was named locally as Brian Vickery, 63, from Clevedon, north Somerset, who had worked there for 42 years. The man’s son was also employed at the site but was on a day off when the blast happened.
The investigation is in its very early stages but sources with knowledge of the site said early indications seemed to suggest a buildup of methane gas may be behind the explosion.
Three employees of Wessex Water and a contractor were killed in the blast, which happened at the site on Kings Weston Lane on Thursday morning. A fifth person was injured.
Police have said the explosion was centred on a silo that held treated biosolids – solid matter recovered in sewage treatment processes and turned into organic soil conditioner. It is believed the five people were all working on top of or near the silo.
The dangers associated with silos containing biosolids are well known in the industry. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has previously warned that methane can be a risk, as can “sewage dust”.
Concern about build-ups of pressure in storage silos at water treatment plants has also been flagged up as a cause for concern but there has been no incident comparable to the Avonmouth explosion in the UK.
Floral tributes were left at the entrance to the plant, one reading simply: “Thinking of my workmates and good friend.” A crowdfunding campaign is to be launched to support the families of those who were killed.
John Phillips, regional secretary of the trade union GMB, said: “This is another stark reminder of the absolute need to ensure people are able to work in environments where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled.
“Whilst the cause of this tragedy is not yet known, it is essential that a full and thorough investigation takes place.”
Darren Jones, the MP for Bristol North West, said he would be calling on the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and others “to ensure that lessons are being learnt so that these situations that shouldn’t happen in the first place don’t happen again.”
Churches in Avonmouth and nearby Lawrence Weston were opened for those who wished to say prayers while flags flew at half-mast at the Bristol Port Company and members of the West of England Combined Authority held a minute’s silence before a meeting on Friday.