Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, May 26, 2008


While travelling in all sorts of exotic locations with our friend Trevor (gidday Trev) who is a construction manager, we couldn't help but observe that not all building sites were subject to the same rules of engagement that we had become accustomed to in Australia and Britain respectively. In some instances, such as the bloke working on the fifth floor balcony pictured above, we simply called them "Workplace" as there was no hint of any Health or Safety provisions whatsoever.

As we journeyed we talked about it often and long into the night. The Workplace Health and Safety regulations are a relatively recent phenomenon and we wondered how between us we'd survived for a hundred years in the construction industry without being killed entirely due the absence of a reflective safety vest for most of our respective careers.

While the pendulum may have swung a long way too far, there was a time when perhaps I must begrudgingly admit, safety was for girls.

It started as far as I can recall in the late sixties, when workers were inadvertently dropping off steel framed high-rise buildings at a rate of knots that some politician (and doubtless a bunch of bereived wives, mothers and assorted next of kin) deemed undesirable. The first regulation that I can remember was one that enforced a scaffolding structure no more than three floors below the work face. I wondered at the time if a three storey landing was any more pleasant than a ten storey one, and supposed that at least it saved considerable cleaning up.

I have no issues with a requirement for safety railings to prevent falls, nor for that matter with a requirement to ensure that electrical wiring is properly tested to prevent accidental electrocution, but I do think there are some things which would be far better left well alone, where nature should be allowed to take its course.

One of those times occurred not long after we had bought our first home, and were purchasing some second had timbers from a demolition yard.

There were great piles of flooring and weather board all around the yard, with prominent nails poking out in all directions, waiting for a gang to remove them and stack the timber a little more tidily. An older chap, I don't know how much older as at the age of twenty-one, anyone who was older than forty could have been a hundred, but he was quite a bit "older", came out to assist, and was soon scurrying over the nail-mines looking for the bits that we needed.

When he returned with the first stick, I noticed to my horror that not only was he completely barefoot, but his feet were covered in a rash that looked as though he was midway through a dose of chicken pox. As a student of architecture I knew very few symptoms of any disease, but I knew enough to know that chicken pox doesn't usually effect only the tops of the feet, and apart from these scores of scabs he seemed to be a picture of health and fitness.

Slowly it dawned on me that the rash, was not a rash, but the result of him standing on dozens of boards with nails so long they had penetrated the entire thickness of his feet.

I couldn't stay silent. I was shivering at the very thought of what I had just discovered, a nasty cold sort of shiver at that, so asked politely, why he didn't wear shoes at least?

"Ah mate," he started,"I've got so many holes in my feet, it's just unlucky if the nails hit anything."


1 comment

freefalling said...

Reminds me of a story of my grandfather - he was tough too - a shearer.
He smashed his head open with a mattock - he just told Grandma to put a bit of metho on it!!
What is it with old people and metho?
They put it on everything!

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