My Steelworks Story part 4

As an apprentice in the Oxygen Steel Plant i worked a day shift  8 – 4.30 pm , when i came out of my time i was put onto the shift system, this system was a 2 , 2 , 3  (  2 x 6/2  , 2 x 2/10 , 3 x 10/6 ) 2 days off. Working on the shifts you had to cover all the plant equipment. As mentioned before there was 4 main sections to the Steel plant, the Charging bay , the heart of the plant where the vessels , boilers , pumps, valves , fans etc., Casting bay , Stripping bay.


In the Charging bay, the molten iron was brought in from the Blast Furnaces about 120 – 130 ton in small brick lined pots.

The charging bay cranes would decant the molten iron from the pots into a large ladle , this ladle was placed on scales to check the weight. During this process the air would be filled with smoke and dust , also particles of graphite. In the sunlight you could see the graphite twinkling as it cascaded down.

Because the graphite was slippery , there was a squad of men who had to go onto the cranes and gantries to sweep all the graphite dust up for safety reasons. Working on the cranes was dangerous, when walking along the crane gantry you had to give way to any moving cranes, accidents have been caused with people being crushed  between a vertical girder and a passing crane .

In modern day plants there would be more clearance between the girders and the cranes , also working at height these days you have to wear a safety harness and be attached to a safety line.


As with other departments in the Steel works , some jobs were critical and time constrained to production. These jobs were contract jobs, to get the work completed in a certain time a bonus payment was made. In the Oxy plant one contract job was to replace an oxygen lance.

Each vessel has two oxygen lances attached to a carriage which can traverse to place the lance above the vessel. The lances were about 30 feet long and about 18 inch in diameter, the lances were water cooled. If a lance failed , either by the end burning off or too much slag sticking to it the lance would be changed.

The damaged lance would be lifted to its upper limit the  carriage would travel to place the spare lance in position above the vessel . This is when we would have to replace the damaged lance while production would be using the other one.

A squad of two riggers , one plumber and his mate, one fitter and his mate would work to change the lance. The riggers would secure the lance to an Acrow hoist, the fitter would go through a trap door to a lower level and remove some clamps holding the lance to the carriage .

If the production people were teaming the steel from the vessel or skimming the slag off, the flames , sparks and dust would shoot up to the 5 th floor  so we had to be careful .!!! 

The next step was to split the water hoses and the oxygen hose from the lance, the plumber would isolate the water to the lance, the riggers would take the lance to a holding post and bring a new lance to be fitted. After putting everything back together and re clamping the lance , the plumber would put the water pressure back on and test for leaks.

The riggers would then lower the damaged lance from the 5th floor to a special trailer on the ground floor ready to go to the boiler shop for repair. We would be payed a bonus payment for this job.


Another contract job was in the Dolomite plant , the dolomite bricks used to line the vessels were of different lengths , shapes and thickness.The brick presses were of three molds on a round table. When production had made a batch of bricks of a certain type , we would have to remove the three moulds and the pressure head for that type and replace them with the moulds for the next different batch, for this we would get a bonus payment.


During the steel making process a certain tonnage of scrap iron / steel would be tipped into the vessel , then the molten iron would be poured in. The L D vessel would be put in the vertical position and the oxygen lance would be lowered into the vessel and the oxygen would start blowing and agitating the iron. All the smoke ,heat, dust , fumes would be sucked away by a large Induced draught fan . 

On L D ‘s  1 & 2  waste heat boilers were in the extraction system, the heat generated from the process passed through the boiler combustion chamber and helped to raise 160 / 180000 lb’s of steam per hour, when the vessel wasn’t blowing the oxygen, to keep raising steam the oil burners were used to keep the temperature up, these burners would switch off when the oxy lance was blowing again. The dust and fumes etc., would then be passed through the precipitators , on L D’s 1 & 2 the precipitators were too small and inefficient , the red dust was supposed to be collected in the precipitators  but this didn’t happen very often.  On L D’s 3 & 4 the extraction system was slightly better with larger precipitators and more conditioning of the dust and fumes.

On L D’s 3 & 4  it was a high pressure hot water system instead of boilers, the heat, fumes , dust would be sucked away from the vessel by the large Induced draught fan up through the water cooled fume hood then it would pass through a conditioning tower where steam and water sprays would knock some of the dust out into the tower, the rest would pass through the precipitator. This system worked ok as long as the precipitators operated properly.The hot cooling water would pass through the heatexchanger banks outside on the flat roof . ( this was a good place to keep warm in the winter time )

If we had to work inside the precipitators we got an extra payment of £12 per shift. The precipitators were at the North end of the plant, inside the precips were large stainless steel plates about 15 feet high and 12 feet wide and were attached to a frame . Along the edges of the plates were blocks of metal called ” anvils ” . Separate from the plates , there was a row of shafts with round shaped blocks of metal attached, these were called ” hammers” and lined up with the anvils, When the stainless steel plates were to be electrically charged, the shafts would rotate and lift the hammers up, the red dust would then collect on the plates, after a certain time the plates would lose the electric charge, at the same time the shafts would stop rotating and trip and the hammers would swing round and hit the anvil, this would cause the red dust to drop off the plates and into the hoppers below. Then” “Redler” chains would carry the dust away and tip into a large hopper outside the precipitators. Working inside was very dirty and it was a confined space.

After receiving work permits and a gas test it was safe to enter through a small hatch , we had to take portable lights inside with us, as soon as you started to work all the red dust used to fall down off the roof and the plates. The only PPE we had was a hood, then we tied rags around our necks, we taped our overalls up on the arms and legs, we had a ” Martindale mask ” to wear  which was tin plate holding a gause pad , then our safety hat and goggles.


Moving around in such a confined space and climbing the internal ladders , you were always catching the frames and girders sending more dust into the air. The red dust helped to corrode the stainless steel plates and also the vanes on the I D fan so what could happen to humans !!?

As the steel plant was a very hot , dusty  dirty place to work in , we could get extra payments called ” condition money ” If you were working in a hot and dirty part of the plant you could claim an extra payment of 7 shillings per hour (  35p )this was payment ” A ”    If you were working where it was dirty and dusty you could claim a payment of 3 shillings & 9 pence  ( 18p ) For just working in the workshop an extra payment of 1 shilling & 9 pence (  8p )  On an average shift we would try to get 4 hours of A payment and 3 hours of B payment.

In the late 70’s the unions got us a pay rise BUT  we had to loose all our contract and condition money payments except for the £12 precip  payment. The management brought in time and motion  ( work study ) All our jobs were timed and this brought alot of discontent into the department. You had to work hard to achieve 100% on work completed , because the work to be done was broken down into different elements and we spent more time completing paperwork !!!.

Thanks to Phil Brown

if you have a Story please do get in touch

photo thanks to David Thompson

photo thanks to David Thompson

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