I am an engineer. A good portion of my time is spent in and around systems or situations that inherently have some element of human risk to life or limb. Also, my dad is in construction, as was his dad. My other grandfather lost a part of his hand to an industrial accident. I’ve been around construction, both domestic and industrial, all my life. I thought I would share a few of the incidents that happened to me or around me whilst I was working.
First off, let me share an incident that happened to me yesterday that started me thinking along these lines.
I was at a job site office, merrily working at my laptop when another worker came in kind of frazzled saying that all of the workers in the building next door were evacuating wearing their mini escape filters.
You see, the job site I’m at has one of the highest concentrations of H2S in the world. H2S is some nasty stuff. We have to wear a gas detector at all times, alarming at 7ppm, because of the presence of the gas. Effects of exposure to high levels (100 parts per million or higher) of hydrogen sulfide can include shock, convulsions, inability to breath, rapid unconsciousness, coma, and death. To give you an idea, the air you breath would only have to have 0.01% of the air contaminated to potentially kill you… nasty stuff.
Yesterday, the plant across the street had its toxic gas alarms go off, indicating that there was a dangerous release of H2S. The people in the building next to us heard the alarm first. Some people came in to warn us there was a potential incident and we needed to evacuate. We put on mini filters and proceeded to the minibuses.
We were waiting for the signal to evacuate. While we were sitting there, the driver got hot and turned on the air conditioner. Hmm… great idea… so while our personal alarms aren’t going off yet, let’s bring in potentially toxic air into a confined space. We started screaming at him (he didn’t speak English), until finally someone shut off the AC.
The alarm and evacuation turned out to be a drill, but it was disturbing nonetheless.
This was also one day after one of the dump trucks driving around our site rolled over due to unstable ground conditions.
The first time I came across a serious accident was in my first job. I was working for a maintenance group that was responsible for maintaining and upgrading control systems across a fleet of plants. We had an all-stop one day because of a fatality the previous day. The worker in question had been pulling a pump which he had on a mobile gantry crane, similar to what you would see in mechanic’s shop to lift a motor.
He was pulling it, using a couple of ropes, which he attached to the top of the crane. Some other worker was using an industrial water hose and had not marked off the trip hazard. The unfortunate worker came across the hose and, rather than moving the hose, tried to force the crane over the hose. Instead, he pulled the crane and pump on top of him, crushing him.
This was the first time I realized how dangerous job sites could be. As it turned out, across the fleet of plants, the company was averaging a little over a fatality a year.
I was touring a power plant we were bringing out of mothballs to cope with the increased demand in electricity. We were in the switchgear room, where the high voltage electricity equipment was located. A senior engineer, a vendor representative for the switchgear, a young new operations representative, and I were walking down a live switchgear when the ops rep started to point to something in one of the compartments. The senior engineer, a small 60-something man, grabbed the guy by the collar and threw him against the wall. He got right in that young man’s shocked face and said, “I don’t care if you want to get yourself killed, but I’d be damned if you take us with you.”
That engineer saw the possibility that the electricity could jump and seriously hurt that person and us, since we were in close proximity to him.
That is what I want to leave you with… we live in a dangerous world. Through an accident or mechanical failure or the carelessness of others, you can find yourself in a threatening situation. The only thing that we can do is be aware, be vigilant, and be safe.
I hope you’re safe and doing well! As a friend of mine says, be safe and be happy!