Balancing Act

This is a gardener. He is trimming back trees on our residential estate in Johannesburg. To do this, he is standing atop a wall with electric wires both in front of and behind him.

Balancing Act.
Balancing Act.

He looks up at the sound of my camera clicking. Then returns to the task in hand, shuffling further along the wall-top inch by precarious inch. I assume this section of the fence has been temporarily switched off. Even so it would be easy to trip on the wire and fall.

It’s at least an 8-foot drop. You can’t see them, but he wields a giant pair of shears. Were he to fall, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine him impaling himself on those shears, or instead garotting himself on the taut wires, or both. That’s if the electricity IS switched off. If not he should be more concerned about instant electrocution.

Sometimes all the pernickety health and safety laws at home are a little bit over the top, like the time some years ago that a manager in a well know café chain refused point blank to warm the milk in Sweetpea’s baby bottle, lest she burn herself on hot spots. Surely it was my responsibility, as her mother, to ensure she didn’t burn her mouth, not his? But such is the increasingly litigious and nanny-fied nature of OUR (my) health and safety culture.

The flip side is the slapdash-crazy-ass approach encountered in many other parts of the world. The wall-walking-gardener, isn’t the nuttiest thing I’ve seen by a long shot, but it doesn’t look like a terribly sensible way to deal with a bit of inconvenient foliage, does it?

Possibly the most death defying work practice, (death defying being an inaccurate description, as death was in fact not consistently defied), was that of the construction workers in 1990’s Bangkok.

High-rise buildings would erupt from the dust and when it was time for a bit of a break, maybe a post-prandial-snooze, the sky-high open air window ledges were a perch of choice. Every so often a worker would roll over in their sleep and fall to their doom.

I still remember the absolute horror and excitement of it happening at the building site opposite our school, all the boys rushing to the top floor to see what they could see.

It is a balancing act to find the right equilibrium between danger and safety on the job, but here the leaning is often toward the former rather than the latter.

What’s the most death defying work practice you’ve come across on your travels? Or, alternatively, what’s the most jobs-worthy OTT health and safety rule you’ve been foiled by at home or abroad?

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