Four chimneys and a story

Health, safety and wellbeing at Battersea Power Station Redevelopment, one of London’s biggest regeneration projects.

Battersea Power Station or ‘Battersea’ – just those words conjure up imagery for most Londoners. Whether it is the iconic chimneys standing proud beside the Thames, a pig floating above the Power Station on Storm Thorgerson’s Pink Floyd album cover, or days out to concerts and extreme sports in the grounds of the derelict building – the four towering chimneys of Battersea are fundamental to London’s landscape.

Now, 35 years after one of the largest brick buildings in Europe first stood derelict, Battersea Power Station is being transformed into a brand new urban landscape, with new homes, restaurants, bars, theatres, cinemas, its own tube stations and a River Bus pier – turning four abandoned chimneys into what will be an entirely new community and tourist attraction with a footfall to match that of Gatwick Airport.

“It is great to see the Power Station come to life again, it deserves it”, says John Green, the programme HSE Director at Battersea Power Station Development Company (BPSDC).

Battersea is so much more than a large building site, it is a multifaceted estate, a vibrant community living among a complex construction project. Battersea will be a technology hub housing technology giant Apple’s UK Campus spread over 500,000 square feet and six floors within the Power Station’s main building.

The Battersea Power Station redevelopment project is both estate lived-in community and one of Europe’s biggest construction projects

Battersea will be a community, with over a thousand people already living in Circus West Village, the first phase of the regeneration project to open, and many more to move into the apartments in the later phases.

And Battersea is a destination – a top-10 attraction in London, hoping to welcome 40 million people a year for art, food, shops and culture – or just to take a selfie with a very impressive backdrop.

The past – from power to pop

The original proposal to build a Power Station at Battersea in the 1920s was met with protest as many felt such a large structure would be an eyesore, with further concerns voiced over pollution.

In 1929 construction began and over the following four years Battersea Power Station was born. At a total cost of just over £2million, the first phase of construction work involved 121 non-fatal accidents and six deaths at work.

Circus West Village, or 'Stage one' is complete, consisting of homes, offices, restaurants, cafés and leisure space

War stopped play, and the second phase of the construction project began in a post WWII era, with station B mirroring station A to give Battersea Power Station its iconic symmetrical four chimney layout.

In 1983, the station stopped generating electricity, and the grade II-listed art deco building became more synonymous with pop culture than power, with everyone from Pink Floyd to the Beatles using the decommissioned space as a backdrop to their music.

The present – another 1.7 million bricks in the wall

Currently, the Battersea Power Station redevelopment project is both estate lived-in community and one of Europe’s biggest construction projects.

With stage one complete (Circus West Village, consisting of homes, offices, restaurants, cafés and leisure space) phase two (the Power Station building itself) and phase three (which primarily involves the creation of a new high street known as The Electric Boulevard that will serve as one of the main gateways to the entire Battersea development area by connecting it with the Northern Line Extension station) are well underway.

Speaking to Safety Management, John Green, the programme HSE director at BPSDC – who is an advocate and leader in the Safety Differently approach to occupational safety and health – said that Battersea is so much more than a building site: “One of the intriguing things about Battersea is that it is both a construction site and a new neighbourhood.

Aerial view of Battersea Power station redevelopment

We have currently got tenants living there, we have restaurants and entertainment and we have the pier. We have hosted London’s first seafood festival and nearly one million people have visited this emerging London destination. I think it does it a disservice to think of it simply as a construction site – because we provide the same levels of safety to visitors and the public when they visit.”

Battersea Power Station’s four iconic chimneys have been rebuilt using the same construction technique as when they first graced London’s skyline. Since the first pour on May 2015, nearly 25,000 wheelbarrow loads of concrete have been handpoured into the chimneys that each stand 51 metres tall.

Rather than use a hose to pour the concrete, it was decided to replicate the original construction methods and 680 tonnes of concrete was lifted in a hoist to the top of the chimney, transferred into wheelbarrows and then hand poured into the structures. The North West chimney will host a glass viewing platform giving an unparalleled 360° view of the city, which will be open in 2021.

Simon Jenner, chief operating officer of the BPSDC, said: “Battersea Power Station is an extraordinary and challenging building to redevelop and restore, so naturally it calls for extraordinary bricks. That’s why it’s so satisfying to use bricks from the same quarries that supplied the Power Station when it was built, custom-blended to preserve our unique heritage.” 

Health, safety and wellbeing

On such a large and complex site, health, safety and wellbeing is no small undertaking, from the safety of those already living and working at Battersea, to the thousands of construction workers working day and night through the current phases of the build.

Following the incredible success of London 2012, which saw the safest Olympics on record, Lawrence Waterman, who became director of health and safety for the Battersea Power Station in 2012 and is founding partner of Park Health and Safety, has voiced his commitment to safety and health at Battersea, with a real focus on the health and wellbeing of workers.

Shift working, fatigue and the mental health of workers is something that has been highlighted as main risks by Martin Coyd, head of health and safety in Construction at Mace (phase two construction manager at Battersea). Martin has spoken of the importance of getting construction workers to seek help as the male-dominated industry has much higher than the national average levels of suicide. Coyd has championed simple accessible support for construction workers, and the importance of having visible mental health first aiders on site.

A team of six on-site occupational health nurses work to look after the health and wellbeing of the construction workers that are employed on site, as well as supporting the neighbouring community.

Melodie Gilbert, senior partner at Park Health & Safety, commented: “When we were looking at how to set up the health service at Battersea, we wanted it to be different – so for the first time we came up with the idea of having a fourth “W” (in addition to workers, workspace and wellbeing) – the wider community. So, being able to involve the wider community of either the workers’ families, or the actual community. This has now been adopted by several other projects. We are offering defibrillator training to members of the community and doing first aid for infants training – just widening our offering.”

Health and wellbeing consultant Kerrie Brindle added: “We’ve had a programme of events going throughout the year. We get out on-site delivering toolbox talks, giving lunchtime fitness sessions and running ‘The younger You’ programme to help people reduce workers’ metabolic age through diet and exercise and we’ve had great results.”

The Battersea health team also focuses on occupational hygiene, looking at the prevention and mitigation of ill health in the workplace – from noise to dust to vibration; and a clinical team, made up of experienced trauma/A&E nurses, undertaking emergency response and rescue services.

The future – technology, culture, innovation and community

It will be another 10 years before Battersea is totally complete and, by then, it hopes to be at the forefront of technology, culture, innovation and community. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has spoken of his delight that Apple is bringing “new jobs and economic prosperity for London.”

Battersea’s redevelopment also hopes to continue to be an environment that promotes health, safety and wellbeing well into the future – with another legacy that the UK construction industry can be proud of, as with London 2012, of a record breaking megaproject on the banks of Thames.