February 23, 2013 - We reported on a slightly unusual accident last month, a tree company contracted by a city council to trim/prune trees in a downtown area selected a self-drive boom lift, a Niftylift SD, from which to carry out the work. Whomever chose the machine clearly knew what he or she was doing. The SD can be driven from the platform when stowed, outriggers must then be set before elevating the boom. The benefit is that the lift is substantially lighter than boom lifts that are driven at full height, and as this machine was working on grass in a city centre it was exactly the right machine for the job – so far so good.
However, it is claimed that a supervisor on the job – aware that the contract price only allowed seven minutes per tree - decided that the work could be carried out faster, by disabling the lift’s outrigger interlocks so that the boom could be raised without setting them. The employee carrying out the work is said to have questioned this, but was apparently told that if he wouldn’t do it he could find another job. The man decided that he could not afford to be out of work and went ahead as instructed.
The almost inevitable happened and the machine overturned and the reluctant operator was thrown from the falling platform, as he had not bothered to put his harness on. Fortunately he landed on grass and was lucky not to be injured or killed. As to the supervisor, his short-cut certainly did not save time and may have lost him his own job, while the contractor probably lost money on the contract, hurt his reputation, but had a lucky escape - hopefully along with a strong wake-up call.
Two things are highlighted by this incident.
1. It is possible/likely that the city –the client - cut the price of the contract to a point where the only way it could be done profitably was by ‘corner-cutting’? We know that this has happened repeatedly on wind turbine installation contracts and most recently caused an issue on a bridge installation job in Northern Ireland.
2. Employees need to be able to say No! in such situations without fear of being penalised - perhaps safety agencies or associations should have toll free numbers that an employee under such pressure can call or text with a guarantee of anonymity, while taking some form of immediate action? Some serious legal protection for whistle blowers in cases of serious safety violations would also help.
Both factors are serious issues that ultimately lead to death and destruction in our industry. The thing is that companies accepting a contract at pricing levels below which they can make money do themselves no favours. Managers who then seek ways to cut costs by relying on luck that it a chosen measure will not go wrong, put themselves at risk of a life spoiling incident and do themselves no favours, and finally the employee who does something he knows is wrong in order to keep his job could well lose it anyway, along with his life.
When you think about it both points are actually one and the same thing – Knowing when it is right to simply say No!
We appear to be sliding into an era where truth and facts are seen as disruptive irritations, not only by outspoken ‘populist’ politicians, but increasingly of large companies and industry associations.
Would companies benefit financially from being more open, honest, transparent and truthful?
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