I had an opportunity to see Health and Safety at work today… and now I begin to understand why it takes so very long, and costs so very much, just to get things done… in England.
The project was to move two large items, it doesn’t really matter what they were, onto a frame. The items were long (about three or four metres), and moderately heavy. We had six people. First, there was a discussion on how the project should be undertaken, although [to me] it seemed readily obvious that we should lift them from each end and put them on the frame… after more than five minutes we decided to lift them from each end and put them on the frame. Actually, ‘we’ didn’t decide, two older guys decided after they had competed for a while on who could look the more intelligent and who could add the most finishing touches to the process… the process of lifting the first item and putting it on the frame. The other four of us stood around pretending to listen (perhaps the other three really were listening; it’s unfair of me to assume they wandered off into their own imagination, memories, plans, etc… as I did).
After this discussion had taken place we were all very carefully directed to either end – there only being two ends – more careful instructions were supplied on how to lift something into the air, and more instructions on how to put it down again when it reached the frame. It then took approximately fifteen seconds to lift it from both ends and put it on the frame…
Next we had to far more intimidating project of lifting the next, identical, item onto the previous one. This caused all sorts of logistical problems because the first item would force us to lift the second item about another four feet higher. It seemed [relatively] obvious to me that we would need something to stand on at each end. For the next thirty minutes or so we watched as these two fellows duelled over the most magnificent of inspired ideas. One fellow strapped the first item down so it wouldn’t move throughout the process, the other fellow improved on his knot. The second fellow chose some steps for us to stand on and the first fellow said it would be better to build some short scaffold. The second fellow said the scaffold would be unsafe and so would have to be shored up with bracket pieces. I shall stop there for there are too many details to include, but I think you get the message. Throughout this period of time the rest of us, having apparently totally given up on listening to the sport, sat or stood around chatting, smoking, staring off into space, and one person actually took a puppy for a short walk. You have to imagine that these people are all being paid… being paid to stand around until the process of making the process safe and efficient.
After about forty-five minutes in all, when various things had been constructed and secured, ideas created and destroyed, small refinements applied, we lifted the second thing onto the first thing – the process of which lasted perhaps a little over a minute (at this point they then began to deconstruct and unstrap all the previous junk while the others returned to their private musings, activities, smoking, etc…).
I left at that point. It then occurred to me this process, this waste, must be taking place all over the country, perhaps all over the world. How many times have I seen, have you seen, five workmen standing around while one guy seems to be doing the work? Is it because at some point in the future there will be a need for all the others for one brief moment, or are they really being paid to do nothing at all, and how much time has been wasted planning the most flawless way to get something relatively simple done, something which just doesn’t deserve perfectionism?
I had to gnash and gnaw my teeth together today as I paid a workman for my mother… She’d wanted to have the outside of the house painted and had asked a local painter to do it for her. He’d quoted her £130 p/d but had turned up for three mornings, one of which was late, hadn’t produced any receipts for the materials needed, and asked for two full days, for which mum commanded me to pay him cash in hand. £260 for less than nine hours work applying white paint to wood…! Not a penny of which would find its way into our schools, hospitals, roads, etc… Job well done, eh…?