Speaking English is Key to Safety
Following up on the last post on Jobsite accidents in NYC reminded me of an article I wrote for the Engineering-News Record on workplace safety. A lot of it had to do with communication, or lack thereof because of a language barrier. Here’s a run down of what I talked about in that 2008 article.
As Project Manager for a NYC contractor, I was tasked with demolition on the 52nd & 53rd floor of Radio City. It was a large advertising agency, and their renovation required a careful demo section by section inside an operating business. As the first section was encapsulated, my Superintendent and I carefully marked up the shear walls with a large “X” spray painted on both sides, and made sure the demo Foreman (who was the only who could speak English… knew that these walls were NOT to be removed.. The “X” meant leave them alone. He understood us and gave the OK sign.
When all employees had left for the day and the area was covered with plastic, the demo team arrived with about 38 trash containers and 50 men with sledge hammers. We gave the OK signal and all hell broke loose. Sledge hammers were tearing apart glass partitions, drywall and anything in their way. Within 60 seconds, so much dust was raised you could not see your hand before your face. My Superintendent and I looked at each other, and thought the same thing.
Grasping for air, we both ran as fast as we could to the opposite end of the room where 4 grisly demo workers were swinging their sledge hammers with all their might at the two shear walls. Screaming “NO, STOP” did nothing as none spoke English. Both of us had to get in front of the sledge hammers, and grab them before they brought the entire building down.
Later on another demo case in another State, I testified in court on behalf of a worker injured when he was hit by a large piece of ductwork which swung lose and knocked him off a ladder. Someone else cut a few straps off the same piece of duct work without telling him. When asked what caused the accident? I replied: “No one in the room could speak English.” The judge banged her gavel and said in a loud voice: SIR, you will refrain from your remarks or be held in contempt. I will not allow any more of your racial prejudice in my courtroom” I wasn’t trying to start a racial conflict, but simply tell the truth, which was if both spoke English, this accident probably doesn’t occur. Communication and speaking the same language as the majority of the other workers on the site is absolutely critical on a construction site. No one said you had to be an expert on the English language, but know enough to understand and follow directions.
Photo credit (Edmonton Journal)
Post by Paul Gogulski
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