Leader comment: Aberfan tragedy should have been prevented

Children stand at the Aberfan memorial garden wall on a day of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster. Picture PA
Children stand at the Aberfan memorial garden wall on a day of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster. Picture PA
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The harrowing images of the Aberfan disaster when 144 people - the majority of them young children - died in an appalling tragedy when a coal tip slid down into the village is still shocking and sickening 50 years after the event.

Men scrambling with their bare hands in a desperate attempt to free the children trapped under the blackness and debris will never be erased from the collective memory.

In the presnt day it may sometimes appear Health and Safety regulations are overpowering and invasive. That we are living in a “nanny state” with too much being done to constrain our daily lives. Many a regulation is held up for ridicule, with little thought given to the decades of campaigning that has taken place to make our schools, homes and work places safer as we go about our daily business.

But we only have to look at the warnings there had been in Aberfan, including warning by coal workers at the top of the coal tip at 7.30 am on the morning of the tragedy, a petition handed in by mothers with children at Pantglas junior school the year before, and warnings by the school itself, to see what tragedies can happen in our midst if our safety is left unregulated and unheeded.

The Aberfan tragedy may seem to be of another era - and that “the past is a different country”.

But each individual loss of life and injury due to health and safety breaches is a reminder that advances can all too easily be taken away.

An old man in Aberfan said, many years after the tragedy, that he knew the village was breathing again when he saw a fresh batch of young mothers pushing new babies in prams. Our duty now is to try to protect all generations from harm.