Men who died in explosion at former SSI steelworks were on cherry-picker at time of tragedy

Two men who died in an explosion at a former coking plant which supplied the SSI steelworks site were using a cherry-picker, it has emerged.

Friday, 20th September 2019, 19:17 pm
Updated Friday, 20th September 2019, 19:34 pm
The scene of a large blast which killed two workers at a former coke works in South Bank, Teesside, on Thursday. Photo by Tom Wilkinson/PA Wire.

Tragedy struck at around 2.15pm yesterday, Thursday, September 19, when a blaze broke out at the site in South Bank, Teesside, some three miles from the old Redcar blast furnace, which closed nearly four years ago.

Flames could be seen at the time of the incident, and this morning, Friday, September 20, Cleveland Police confirmed two men had died in the incident.

The blast appeared to have engulfed the two workers who were on a blue cherry-picker at the time, working at height.

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It looked to have happened as they worked on large pipes near a gas holder.

Earlier today, police widened a cordon around the site after flames were seen coming from the blast area.

In a statement, Detective Superintendent Tariq Ali said: "We can now confirm that there have sadly been two fatalities as a result of an incident at the former SSI site in South Bank yesterday.

"The families of those two men have been informed and our thoughts remain with them at this very difficult time."

Yesterday, the emergency services had evacuated the site, part of the South Tees Development Corporation area, and declared the fire a "major incident".

Police said the Health and Safety Executive had been informed of the fire.

In a statement issued this morning, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: "Yesterday was a terrible and tragic day and all of our thoughts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of the two workers who were involved in the accident on site.

"It is impossible to imagine the pain and distress which this news will have brought the loved ones of those involved.

“All of the staff who work at the South Tees Development Corporation site are deeply shocked and sorry for this loss.

"All works on site have been suspended while investigations continue.

“The team is working with the emergency services and the Health and Safety Executive, who will continue to have an ongoing presence on site."

Councillor Mary Lanigan, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, said: "I know everyone in the whole community will be devastated by this tragedy.

"Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with the families and friends.

"Our gratitude, as always, goes to the emergency services."

SSI purchased the site in February 2011 but went into liquidation in October 2015.

The steelworks stopped production after 98 years later that month when it was announced there was no realistic prospect of prospective buyers taking it off the Thai owners.

Earlier this year, a deal was agreed to transfer half the land capable of development on the former steelworks to the South Tees Development Corporation, an enterprise promoting economic development in the Tees Valley.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: "I am very sad to learn of the deaths of two workers on the former SSI site, my thoughts are with their families and friends.

"South Tees Site Company are working closely with the Health and Safety Executive and the emergency services to investigate what happened, and to provide support to those affected."