Not my problem

In our line of work you find yourself working in many different kinds of situations. Sometimes in the tranquillity of a private park, other times in tight confines of an urban garden – and sometimes alongside busy roadways.

A couple of weeks ago we were due to do some work on an alignment of plane trees between a road and railway tracks. The council we were working for were handling the traffic management side of things. The road running alongside the alignment is a 40km/h zone with moderately heavy traffic, with a bus line and quite a few heavy lorries running to and from construction sites nearby. As this is just by the railway station there is also a fair amount of pedestrian traffic.

After arriving on Monday morning, we had a site briefing with the team and the council workers about how we were going to run things, as there was also the hazard of the over-head power lines of the train, there was a safety person on site from the railway operator.

After that we got stuck in – and from the word go it transpired that the traffic management was… well, flakey, to put it lightly. The guy responsible for waving through and stopping vehicles had just spent three days the week before at Fasnacht, the local carnival, and was obviously still very much in that mode: he spent the morning hurling abuse and scorn at vehicles passing by. I was amazed his antics did not result in a fist fight. The signage on-site was also on the skimpy side. This became a bit of a pattern over the next two days. But as we were working for the council and these were after all council employees, I felt that if this is the way they choose to operate… so be it.

Thinking about it, I realized that the constant heckling was creating a real sense of – unnecessary –confusion and stress around the site: a lack of clarity for motorists and cyclists and a stressful atmosphere for the ground workers and climbers aloft. One person’s decision on how it is appropriate to behave also reflected badly on the whole team, despite the fact that everybody else was behaving professionally.

On the third day a different worker managed the traffic with a lollipop sign.

The difference could not have been more striking. From one moment to the next (in combination with proper signage), this took a whole lot of stress and pressure out of proceedings and also made for a much clearer situation – and guess what? There was also no more need for shouting.

In hindsight I realized that is was wrong to delegate that part of the job to council, considering this not to be any of my business. Ultimately if I drop a stub that ricochets off one of the lower limbs and strikes a vehicle or a person, it becomes very much my business, regardless of whether the council boys and girls were doing a good job – or not.

This is not a sensational insight or revelation, but rather a reminder of the necessity to take all aspects of a job into account, to be diligent in not allowing yourself to create blind spots or areas that are none of your business, but rather to take an active interest and role in making the site as safe and efficient as possible.

When working aloft, everything happening below you needs to be your business.