I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days that all these memories come flooding back to me.
A Close Thing
During my time on these oil construction sites where we built some of the largest constructions ever built, we had a few accidents, some of which, I am afraid, were fatal. This incident that I am about to share with you all, was what we called a close thing.
During construction of these large jackets, as we called them1. They were always built on their sides as that was the only way they could slide them onto the barges after they were completed. Anyway, during the build, we used to hold the braces that the structure was built of into position by what we called Pad-Eyes. These were used to keep the brace in position until there was enough weld metal in the joint to take the strain. The size of these Pad Eyes depended on the size of the braces and some of them were really big and heavy. They were what we called temporary attachments and there were set procedures for their use and removal afterwards - which had to be strictly adhered to. They simply bridged the gap between the braces that were being joined and a small hole was left2 so that we could weld continues without leaving spaces in the weld joint.
In fact, for us, they were a pain as they made access to the joint difficult. Even the Pre Heat boys were none too happy with them as it meant they had to secure the heat pads around them. These pads were there to pre-heat and maintain the heat until the welding was finished. They were basically small electric fires which were around two feet long and four inches wide and they were held in place by clamps. Once they were in position and the whole area was enclosed by tarpaulin sheeting the heat would build up immediately. This was, in fact, quite cosy in the winter but could be really unbearable in the summer. Yet they were kept on to protect the weld from the weather until all welding was completed.
During the winter months, when the weather was bitterly cold, wet and windy, I used to stay up on the job all day. This included coffee and lunch breaks as it seemed pointless to me to climb all the way down and walk across the site to the huts, getting soaked in the process, when I could just as easily stay up in the Houf (as we called them) all day, and keep warm. Some of the jackets had lifts on them in order for us to get to the top quicker, as it could take a long time to climb up all the ladders. The lifts could only hold a certain amount of men, so the others had to wait until the lift came back up for them and they were open to the elements while they waited. That is the reason I stayed in my houf as all that seemed pointless just for a ten minute break or the half hour we were allowed for lunch.
Like I mentioned earlier, the Pad Eyes were removed as soon as there was enough weld metal in the joint then taken down to ground level either by a crane or manually carried down depending on their amount and size. The particular weld that I was on this day had quite a lot of Pad Eyes as it had been a difficult fit so I, for one, was very pleased to see them removed as they had been obstructing my access from the start. The fitter, who was up there with me that day, had left them on the scaffolding floor which was made up of planks of wood, while we went to the other side to cut the rest of them off. When he was finished he persuaded me to go down to the canteen that day as there was something special on the menu that he thought I should try.
So, when the time came, I went down with him in the lift and we walked over to the canteen about a hundred yards away. During our break we heard this really load noise which was followed by a different noise; the sound of something falling. We went over to the door for a look as did a few other men, but we could not see anything out of the ordinary so we went back and finished our lunch which, in fact, was well worth my trip down. After lunch we were making our way back over to the jacket along with all the other men when we noticed a crowd of them standing in a group looking up above them. When we got over there and pushed our way to the front we could see exactly what had happened, and how.
The noise we had heard earlier was, in fact, all the Pad Eyes that he had cut off and stacked up on the floor of our houf earlier. It appears the combined weight of these Pad Eyes had proved too much for the scaffolding floor and the whole lot of them - along with the wooden boards - had come crashing down. On the way down they crashed through two other houfs, totally destroying the scaffolding around them, and caused some damage to other braces that had been completed. They then landed on top of another brace that was still being held by Pad Eyes and broke the joint apart. Luckily, however, this joint was only a few feet from ground level.
Luckily for all concerned, and that included all the workers who had been working on all the levels below us as well as ourselves, this had happened during the lunch break. So I suppose the fact that I had come down that particular day to try out that new menu was a blessing for me. The thought occurred to me, while I was searching through the wreckage for my personal items which I had left up there, that the whole episode was yet another lucky escape for me - the first of many I am happy to say.