Occupational Safety – Wave Goodbye to those Fingers!

Earmuffs anyone?  How about goggles?  Would you like a pair of gloves and workboots?

Why let these little annoyances get in the way of a good time?  Just walk past any urban construction site or home improvement-related store and you’ll see it. The free (reckless disregard?) approach to workplace safety. Johnny Qu and Rex Li will be dismantling, welding, nailing and sawing anything from metal to wood to plastic etcetera. Corrosive chemicals might be added to the mix too.

“She’ll be right” demonstrates a typical Kiwi approach to life. It’s not always the most sensible. “One nail will do mate” (when two or three would guarantee quality). This, however, is nothing compared to the stuff we see going on in southern China. Let’s take a look at what must get affected by such laissez-faire behaviour.

The Ears

I’ve never seen a pair of earmuffs on a construction worker. Large construction sites boast about worker safety but it’s the truth. Despite the crash of construction and bash of demolition, most workers wander about the site with ears fully exposed. Jackhammers are some of the loudest tools around, only outdone by a jet engine, gunshot, rocket, or firecracker!  Yet jackhammer operators and bystanders allow their ears to soak up all the available noise. I’ve included a decibel chart to put the jackhammer’s dulcet tones into  a wider perspective:

common-decibel-levels-chart

Wait, do you mean that exposure to 120 decibels for 10 hours a day might actually cause long-term hearing impairment?  Yikes.

Note that “normal” conversation sits at 60 db on this chart. The Cantonese I know rarely ever have “normal” conversations. The chart could be adjusted to reflect local conditions – 110 dbs might be more accurate. Babies are loud – Cantonese are often louder.

The Eyes

Sparks will fly baby when I set my eyes on you…..   It sounds like a hard rock song from the 1980s. It might very well be the soundtrack to a movie about welders. No safety goggles in sight (excuse the pun) as their eyes sit mere inches from blindness. One wants to go up and educate them about the importance of workplace safety but this would be akin to a conversation between the English and Americans on the rules of cricket.

industry metal fire radio
Xiaomin was delighted with his new safety equipment

Fingers

In many countries, butchers and fishery workers use mesh gloves to protect against knife slippages. No such luck here. It brings new meaning to the term fish fingers.

Feet

Do you really think a pair of sneakers (or leather slip ons) is going to protect your toes from the weight of a concrete slab?  Workers (or better yet, construction managers) – buy yourselves some steel-capped boots!  Now that’s foot for thought, isn’t it?

Head

Possibly the safest part of the human body. Or is it? Most construction workers get a pretty yellow or red helmet to wear on site. The robustness of these helmets is unknown to the casual observer such as me. The worrying thing is that I’ve seen similar looking helmets in toy shops.

group of persons wearing yellow safety helmet during daytime
Cue soundtrack music….

Official Stats?

This gets tricky with the whole truth, lies, and damn statistics deal. A workplace law was passed in 2002 focusing on certain, risky industries but there were (like any new law) gaping holes that were highlighted by several large-scale workplace catastrophes. A 2014 amendment has brought the death rate down (if the stats are actually accurate) and foreign-owned companies are under pressure to comply. It’s bad publicity if you lose half your staff in one morning.

Life in Lifts.com reports only what it sees.  Large-scale building sites were not visited during the writing of this blog. That said, several small-scale operations were observed in action.  Jackhammer teams sans earmuffs, relaxed carpenters with circular saws, sparkly sidewalk welders, the wet market pork hackers, maskless maintenance men carrying buckets of strong-smelling (liquid) chemicals…..

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