It’s Just Not Right

By David H. Glabe, P.E. / August 1, 2007

The use of this ladder jack scaffold just isn’t right, but not for the obvious reasons.  You probably got a chuckle when you first glanced at the photo.  Unfortunately, there is nothing funny about the situation, but not for the obvious reasons.  I took the photo in the old neighborhood several years ago when I was driving through.

We have six, yes six, workers repairing the mansard style roof of a two story residence on the northwest side of Chicago.  Let’s identify these guys.  Worker Number 1 is on the roof, oblivious to the exposure of a fall of about 20 feet.  Worker Number 2, towards the rear of the house, is climbing up a ladder while carrying a 2×8 board 8 feet long.  Worker Number 3, in the bright red hat, is on another ladder towards the front of the house; if you look closely he is the serious one, for good reason.  Incidentally, Worker 3 is probably the safest of the crew although I fear for how high he intends to climb up that ladder.  This leaves us with workers Number 4 through 6.  They are positioned on the aluminum stage or pick, supported by two extension ladders.  We’ll identify Worker Number 4 as the man in the dark red sweater, Worker Number 5 is in the plaid shirt and Worker Number 6 is in the white vest.

Are they safe?  What do you suppose they are thinking about their working conditions?  What do you think of their working conditions?  They look happy; I know that because Worker 5 has a big grin on his face.  Is the stage overloaded?  Are the ladders overloaded?  What kind of fall protection should they be using?  How do you suppose Workers 4 through 6 got on the stage?  The answers may be obvious to you but I suspect not to these gentlemen.  Do they really know the predicament they are in?  And they are in a predicament, but not for the obvious reasons.

No doubt, Worker 1 should be using personal fall protection.  Worker 2 shouldn’t be carrying the board up the ladder because he could lose balance and fall.  Worker 3 is okay assuming he stops where he is at.  Workers 4, 5 and 6  should be wearing personal fall arrest equipment attached to suitable anchors.  Hopefully they used the ladder between them and Worker 3 to access the stage.  These are the obvious problems.  The hidden ones, the ones not addressed by the normal OSHA standards, are the problems these guys should be worried about.

I have no idea who these workers are and I have no idea who their employer is.  I don’t know if they are married or if they have children.  I don’t’ know if they are U.S. citizens, guest workers, or illegal immigrants.  But I do know they are human beings and they have the right, that’s correct, the right to a workplace that is free of hazards that are likely to cause serious injury or death.

What you don’t know and cannot see in this picture are the two men standing on the sidewalk watching the work progressing.  My guess is that one man is the homeowner and the other is the contractor; in other words the employer of the men that you can see. And here is the part that just isn’t right.  These workers, these human beings, just like you and I, with families and friends, are being put in harms way by their employer.  While I do not know how these guys get paid, you can be sure that there is a reasonable possibility that they are day laborers, paid in cash and not protected by workers compensation in the event of an injury.  This just isn’t right for many reasons that go beyond the law and regulations.  There is no justification for one man to profit off the backs of others, particularly when that profit comes from knowingly placing those workers in harms way.  I regret that when I took this picture, I did not talk to the two men you cannot see.  I will never know what the outcome would have been but I do know that it couldn’t be any worse than what you see.

I think about Workers 1 through 6 when I visit jobsites and observe hazardous activities because now I talk to somebody to see if the hazards can be eliminated.  So far I haven’t be beaten or thrown off the site.  Once you think about it, that’s about the worse that could happen.  The next time you see a worker exposed to hazards think about these guys—and do something about it!

Tags: Fall Protection jack scaffold job hazards ladder safety Resources Safety Hazards

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David H. Glabe, P.E.

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