Construction Safety Week is an opportunity to reflect on aspects of safety, health and overall well being. It’s nearly 20 years since the death of a friend, colleague and subcontractor and I wanted to share this story and hope that it encourages all of us to be more aware of what it means to “come home safe”.
Extracted from my introduction to our Safety Week event, 25th Oct 2019
We have a simple message that we want you to take from today – it’s real, it’s true and it’s not always a pleasant tale – but one that needs to be told. I want to illustrate that serious safety incidents are not something that happen in “big cities”, just on high rise buildings or on faraway projects – they happen everywhere and unfortunately can happen to anyone. 7 people have lost their lives on construction sites so far in 2019 – 7 too many, but it could be any one of us in this room. 7 is a vast improvement on 10, 15, 20 years ago but surely 0 is the target here?
I have always held the belief that safety in the workplace is, in a very significant way, a personal responsibility – we all need to remain switched on. This is in no way to shirk the responsibilities or the duty of care of employers as legislation is vitally important as are rules, inductions, team talks, white boards, PPE, training, instruction, supervision & culture but it is our personal choices that ensure we return home safely to our loved ones at the end of each day.
It was a Monday, July 24th, 2000 – a day I will never forget, nor will anyone associated with our business at that time. A friend, a colleague, a sub-contractor and a very important member of our team was working on one of our customer’s sites in County Laois. It was the first day of builder’s holidays but this man, ever conscientious, wanted to catch up on some work that was behind schedule. He had his young son at work with him that day.
He fell from the 2nd floor scaffold and suffered a head injury and died in Beaumont Hospital 7 days later. He didn’t get to go home to his partner that night and never got to see his daughter who was born 4 months later. She is almost 20 yrs old now. He was 45 yrs old then & had an exciting future with his partner and new child ahead of him.
He died because the scaffold extenders were not tied and so the planks extended had nothing to tie them into the main scaffold – they parted as soon as he put his weight on them and there were no planks on the level below. Apparently, the window installers were on-site on the previous Saturday and had removed the metal ties and lifted the planks on their edge so they could test their window mechanisms. Our colleague merely replaced the plank(s) so he could gain access to fit the soffit above the bay windows. As you can see, this tragic accident happened following a series of seemingly innocent and unconnected incidents and when viewed separately, in isolation, they do not seem to pose a risk of fatal injury.
I know we as an industry have worked hard to mitigate those individual risks and I know some people still struggle to understand the importance of some of these on a specific basis. Today, it is a criminal offence to tamper with scaffolding – this may seem like overkill until you hear this story. There was no personal blame in an incident like this, there were no convictions because there was never any question of anybody setting out to hurt or injure – just a series of unfortunate decisions by different people at different times…
As I mention earlier, I have always believed that we are completely responsible for our own personal safety and life presents a lot of distractions today, mobile phones, deadlines, personal situations, social media & countless more that demand our attention.
If you take one lesson home today, whether it be a Capcon project or any other – be aware, focus, be careful, be present. If in any doubt – don’t take a chance. Don’t say, it’ll do, I’ll try, I’ll chance it. Don’t say, I’ve done this hundreds of times so it’ll be fine now – take note of your surroundings & promise yourself and your love ones that you are going home tonight and every other night because you went about your work in a safe and conscious way.
Look out for yourselves, look out for each other
- let's stay switched on.
We, for our part at Capcon are fully committed to do everything possible to ensure we always provide safe sites – We never ever want to bury another friend or colleague for a situation that is completely avoidable.