Some readers of the blogs I post on these pages, might view my stories of “daring do” on building sites in my younger days as frivolous or even down-right stupid. To be honest, I would have to agree. I was both stupid and reckless to the point of dangerous. Some of those acts of bravado put both myself and perhaps others in danger.
Just to set the picture clear, I considered at the introduction of the Act in 1974 the Health & Safety Act as just another interference in my rights to work as both my father and previous generation had since time immemorial. Since I was a very newly qualified plumber in the early 70s I had witnessed many acts of reckless bravado – some with devastating consequences. Sadly, some died or were permanently disabled by the loss of limbs – all in the name of “getting the job done”. The accidents I witnessed were for the most part were just that: accidents. Like the workman who walked, without looking, across a hole in the floor slab, of a new construction. He never noticed the potentially lethal danger – he fell straight down onto the galvanized trunking; he lost all of one arm and most of the other. An Irishman outside of the office block we were working on, near to the Dorchester Hotel was using a powerful air compressor hammer. He was drilling down hitting a live cable buried in the road. The explosion sent him to hospital where he died. We all looked upon events like these as “Karma” and went back to work once power had been restored two days later. Earlier, my friend, Douglas Seymour, another apprentice with me had by mistake, and without supervision, filled his plumbers blowlamp with petrol instead of paraffin. When he primed and lit the blowlamp, which exploded into his face creating a horrible scarred mask of pain.
Yet, beside all of those experiences, I was so full of testosterone, I still took the most ridiculous risks with my life. Working on a site in Leytonstone (opposite the bus garage) the eleven story block had scaffolding surrounding it. I and another plumber had a bet that we would each climb the outside of the scaffold – just to see who was quicker! The bet was only for five bob. I do sometime wake in the night thinking, how stupid I was in those days! As it happened he beat me by a gnats breath, and gloried in his prowess as a strong young, daring man, for many weeks to follow.
If I could slip time back, I would acknowledge that the introduction if the 1974 Act was indeed a life saver. It wasn’t the imposition I envisioned it to be and many thousands of lives have been saved by its introduction. Indeed the convenor steward of the union of UCAT (Union of Construction Allied Trades) once explained to me in the most graphic language that I was both stupid and dangerous in my actions to his members. At the time I didn’t really appreciate his vitriol but time has perhaps given me now a modicum of maturity.
As the Act states, we each have a duty of care (not only to ourselves) but to those around us and indeed the public. Let us all follow those wise words – and keep safe, the not so wise youngsters who want to show off.