The night shift operators seem to have smashed the crane and grab into a wall. No one will admit fault, but it’s a mess. The grabs are connected to the crane with heavy shackles and thick steel cables. When we first inspect the ropes one of the guides has splayed open, which must have taken incredible force. The crane engineer replaces it immediately.
I assist the hydraulics contractors on the grab while the electricians work on the crane controls. The contractors — A and S — gather spanners, rags, paper overalls and work permit, then head into the pit where the grab is parked on a concrete platform.
While A and I put together the lifting equipment that will lift out the damaged hydraulic cylinder, S has disappeared.
A: “He’s trying to book a doctor’s appointment — tonsillitis.”
Me: “He’s sick? Can’t he just go home?”
A: “We don’t get sick leave, just statutory. He’s ok.”
Me: “Well that’s shit. He’s only going into a waste pit full of biological hazards.”
A: “Tonsillitis isn’t contagious, is it?”
Me: “Don’t think so.”
S joins us once the cylinder is on the floor, and immediately starts prepping the replacement. He doesn’t stagger and works quickly, but he looks miserable and his voice is hoarse.
A: “Did you get an appointment?”
S: “No. No chance, not at a time I can do.”
A: “Want to go home?”
S: “Nah I’m ok. Let’s just finish this.”
Once we have the grab back together, the crane maintenance engineer comes down to negotiate.
“You can’t test it yet sorry — we’re still working on stuff up there. In a bit I’ll open and close it if you need.”
A and S go for a break while the electricians take parts from the crane back to the workshop. P explains to me how encoders work, and L solders a new plug onto the encoder signal cable. The encoder is a device that tells the crane where the grab is by counting rotations, and the team think that the crash damaged the connection between the encoder and the main controller. L complains: “It doesn’t help that this soldering iron is piss-poor and cold.”
Me and the apprentices separate off to fix some lighting, and when we come back L is swapping the crane’s main controller for a new one.
P: “Do you need a hand, L?”
L: “Nah I’m all right. I’ve just got to fit this and then tell the crane where it is — and then we’re done.”
J: “Radio if you need anything.”
L: “Can you pass that first aid kit?”
L plasters a small cut on his hand and refuses antiseptic cream.
L: “It’s already in there, whatever bacteria are in the pit’s now in my hand.”
P: “You’re an idiot.”
• Emma Rickman is an apprentice engineer in a Combined Heat and Power plant