Safety at heights

Recently I saw a worker working on the top of a pool’s roof erecting scaffolding for a paint job. He was holding the pole horizontally and reaching out over the lip of the roof and trying to bang on the pole, while holding it like a tight rope walker, to lock it into a clamp. But he was having difficulty as he had to push it hard to get the clamp to lock, but was trying to make sure he didn’t put too much of his weight behind the shoves. That’s right, in order to create a safe working platform for the painters, this professional scaffold gymnast was playing tight rope and rugby on top of a precipice.

I queried his actions but it did get me to wonder about a person’s individual perception of risk, or dangerous work. Just recently I heard of two 3-year twins in the US who were allowed to ride in a roller coaster and I assume the parents were in another seat or waiting at the end of the ride. One of the little boys managed to get out of the harness and fell to his death. I can’t imagine anything worse but why did this happen? I tried to think as a parent would my perception of risk be nullified by regulations on being allowed into the ride i.e. there is normally a height gauge used to determine safe or big enough to ride. And without checking, you’d think the ride itself would pass any relevant safety standards. In this case the harness wasn’t good enough and being a US case, there will be a lengthy court case and I imagine the Company concerned will find it difficult to defend against. Still, that’s no comfort for the parents! But did the parents have a part to play? Personally I could not allow my kids to ride by themselves for a multitude or reasons which include behaving, throwing up or even being scared..and yes, in the back of my mind safety.

Which brings me back to the worker on the roof and perception of what is a safety risk. When you have been doing something i.e. working at heights for a long time, I can see how you would get habituated or immune to the dangerous work others would balk at. Perhaps the worker was like the parents, assuming NO one ever falls from a roller coaster except in the movies. The point is, sometimes your workers don’t perceive the danger or risk like an outside pair of eyes does. For whatever reason. And that’s when you need to step in. Whether planned or as an opportunity moment, you have to make a decision to stop any dangerous activities regardless of whether they are only temp workers, or the job is one-off. It is the attitude to dangerous working habits and perceptions we want to stop therefore make a point of stopping it yourself and lead the change with your own urgent and passionate actions. Actions lead to change and better safety outcomes.