The sight of a crane rising out of the school grounds today set me off down memory lane. Back about 10 years to when I held the illustrious position of Site Superintendent on a building construction site. The company who’d won the contract offered me good money to be a glorified safety officer, to open and close the site each day and take the various contractors who would come and go through a safety induction, to “keep an eye on things”. It was the first such big contract this company had ever undertaken and they were based miles away in the Waikato. Turns out I knew more about safety than they did! I presumed there would be a prepared induction process, that there would be guideline to follow, etc. Nope!
Our first inspection from the Department of Health and Safety was disastrous. We got the lowest possible safety score. A bit of a bun fight ensued with my employers claiming we had been more or less victimised because there was a woman doing the job. We were appointed a different safety inspector, one who was helpful. With each inspection our score went up, until after six months, we achieved the highest possible score. (And, better still, the project was completed without a single accident.)
Then came my proudest day. I’d been told there would be a group of visitors, including some leading industry men from overseas. As I signed them in and took them through the induction, one of them looked familiar and as they left to tour the site, addressed me by name. It was only that I realized he was the safety inspector. Panic – an unexpected inspection! Sneaky devil, I thought. They went one way and I went another, spreading the word the inspector was on site. When the group finished their tour, the inspector lingered and I asked had everything been in order. He replied that he’d known everything would be with me in charge, that one of the visitors was his guest, and he’d come along to learn more about the quarrying aspect as the completed project would be a “first of its kind” in the country.
After I’d developed the induction programme and safety procedures, I had a lot of idle time on that job, after all I couldn’t be walking around looking over shoulders from dawn till dark. I refused to read a book on the job and started to amuse the regular contractors with little poems I’d write about them.
The concreting team were regulars, from the beginning to the end of the project, so we came to know each other quite well. I’m sure most of them thought I was nuts but they loved this one, I had to print out a copy for each of them.
Waiting for concrete to dry
The men have had a hard week.
Long days, hot sun.
Their work is manual
Their bodies trim and well toned.
At the end of the day they are still light on their feet.
Stepping nimbly over reinforcing and steel.
A tired movement could split a head, crack an ankle.
They work together with grace and ease,
Like long time lovers they read each other’s signals,
Understand each other’s needs.
As they work together,
And back together again,
They perform an unnamed dance
To unheard music.
The site is now tidy,
The evidence of their labour stored away.
They should be beating the traffic on the Southern Motorway.
Instead they congregate near a dirt heap.
One stretches out, at rest in a digger bucket.
Another kicks a makeshift football,
From a mound made of small stones,
In front of an audience talking
And quietly laughing in easy camaraderie.
If they are impatient,
They do not show it.
It’s part of their life.
Waiting for concrete to dry.
Copyright Pauline Woodcock