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Changing times

It is astonishing how things have changed in my working lifetime. Health and safety has become something that the popular press use as the butt of many jokes, but it is not so many years ago that no thought was given to the safety and wellbeing of anyone on a building site.

Construction was a preserve of the male. It was virtually unheard of for a woman to work in any capacity outside the office or canteen and if ever a woman set foot anywhere within eyeshot, there would be a chorus of catcalls and whistles.

Smoking was endemic. If you were a non smoker in those days you were considered something of an oddball, so every young person starting work, took up smoking to fit in.

On many sites there were no sanitary facilities at all. So men would urinate wherever they could. Handwashing was available at the hose which was usd for the water supply for mixing mortar.

It was common for the lunch break to be spent at the pub, where three or four pints would wash down a pie, before going back to work. Needless to say minor accidents and injuries were commonplace.

Of course the physical nature of the work meant that you were very fit. So competetive showing off was normal, as was aggression, so fights were common. Scaffolders were particularly prone to scrapping, I remember.

It has all changed now of course and rightly so. Women work alongside men in most trades. The industry generally has become more professional. Drink and drugs are an absolute no no. Welfare of the workforce is a major consideration and safety is always the first and main consideration before any job is commenced.

And yet we now seem to have gone too far. Hard hats were designed to protect people from falling objects, hi-vis clothing was designed so drivers and machine operators could easily see the people working nearby. Gloves were designed to prevent cuts and damage to hands, used for handling and lifting materials and equipment, safety glasses were designed to protect the eyes from sparks and shards of debris generated when using power tools. All good sensible precautions.

So why nowadays do we see everyone, regardless of the level of risk, wearing all the above equipment at all times? People working in open spaces with nothing but blue sky above wearing hard hats and Hi-vis jackets. Working inside enclosed buildings protected by a concrete roof and still forced to wear the hard hats. Site management on inspections wearing gloves and safety glasses under their hard hats. The over zealous application of what should be sensible precautions, used when necessary, has devalued its worth.

On site recently I witnessed a snagging team, who were attending to minor defects ( smudges in the paintwork, a light switch slightly off square, a dripping tap - that kind of thing ) inside the homes in a partially completed development. The homes were occupied, yet the workers were wearing steel capped boots, Hi-vis jackets, hard hats, gloves and safety goggles while trying to work - while the occupiers watched TV in their pyjamas.

What utter nonsense.

More later

The Project Master