Don't fall off!

Submitted by AWL on 6 November, 2019 - 8:27 Author: Emma Rickman

I’m in the Control Room with two older operators, ‘N’ and ‘V’, an electrical engineer ‘M’, an older mechanical fitter ‘I’, and an ops assistant, ‘MC’. N is a generally serious and capable shift leader who rides motorbikes. V is a high-voltage electrical engineer sometimes called “Colonel” because his beard is very like the KFC logo. V begins:

“When I was an apprentice, I used to get punched all the time! But you can’t do that now — you’re not allowed to.”

“No, you can’t.” I reply “And that’s a good thing.”

“Look I used to work in a massive steelworks — yeah?” V looks me in the eye the way he does to check that I’m listening. “And there were rods on a conveyor across the hall — so hot they were still glowing,” he spreads his fingers “so when I, a young upstart, wouldn’t follow instructions, was rubbish at school, teachers always having a go...”

Me “And you know that they’re wrong, right?” I look him in the eye because we’ve had conversations like these before. “You’re a highly qualified HV engineer V, clearly your teachers had it wrong.”

V “But not then. Then I was a little shit — and when I got punched in the shoulder and grabbed by this massive mechanic to stop me running over those rods — I remembered it.”

N nods “Yeah”

V “And I wouldn’t do that again, or I’d get the shit kicked out of me.”

N “Or you’d do a piece of work that was shoddy, you know, just crap. And my supervisor would lob it at me —”

V and N are laughing now. It’s infectious and I’m trying not to join in.

‘I’ cuts in “I got quite good at dodging hammers — yeah! If I was doing something dangerous he’d just a throw hammer! But I learned —”

Me “So would you hit me? If I fucked something up?”

V “Not allowed to.”

Me “If you were — ?”

N “I think it’s different with you. See — how old are you?”

Me “Thirty”

N “Thirty — you’ve had some life experience, studied. When I was an apprentice, apprenticeships were for the kids who didn’t like school; always in trouble, didn’t want good marks, wouldn’t follow instructions. They had no O-Levels, the works was their only career option. And there were about thirty-five of us in this steelworks — can you imagine trying to handle everyone?”

Me “You told me about locking apprentices in cupboards for hours; standing on their feet and pushing them backwards; hanging them from crane hooks —”

V “If someone is being cheeky then they have to learn respect. I did, I did very well out of it — didn’t we N? M?”

Me “If you did that to me I’d leave, immediately.”

V “Well many apprentices did. And actually that was good because it wasn’t for them, they couldn’t handle it and it wasn’t for them.”

“My supervisor used to shock me with a multimeter,” says M. M is younger than me, and mentor to the apprentices on site.

Me “What?! Why?”

M “Because I’d made a stupid mistake.”

Me “So he shocked you?”

M “A little shock. You don’t know what it’s like to get shocked until then do you? At least I got to experience it.”

Me “What had you done wrong?”

M “Isolated the wrong part of the panel.”

Me “Couldn’t he just have explained that to you, and got you to correct it?”

M shrugs and makes a “meh” sound “It didn’t do me any harm.”

I shake my head “If you hit someone, you put them off, make them frightened of you. How can they ask you questions? How can they disagree with you if they think you’re wrong? How will they have the confidence to make their own decisions?”

N replies “That training does produce confidence, because you prove you’re tough enough to stand it — it builds resilience. You don’t want to employ someone who’ll be in a situation on the plant, and hesitate about making a decision, or need to ask for advice. You need people who can confidently say, ‘This is what we’re doing’ and know that they won’t make poor judgements.”

“We did take it a bit far though.” V winces, eyeing the three men. “We did a bit. There was this one lad who would not listen, disobedient, talking back — a liability. We stood him on a stool with his hands cable-tied behind his back and a rope in a noose-like form around his neck — “

“It wasn’t a noose — “

“It was as good as a noose. And we said to him we said — “ V’s eyes go wide “Don’t fall off! Ha! And we left him there for lunch.”

MC, a young man who’s taking a break from cleaning ash off conveyor belts, takes his hand away from his mouth.

“And you wonder why these old blokes from steel and pits are all traumatised.”

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.