Odd Jobs and Different Views on Health and Safety

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Odd Jobs and Different Views on Health and Safety

A welder

In order to fill six months in between two studies I had a series of odd jobs through several competing employment agencies. This was an education in itself, especially regarding H&S.
The first job was special, as this was the only place where no questions were asked by any of the agencies if you either quit or were fired. (Yes, that kind of company.)

On my first day, I had to make pallets from timber, using a sawing machine and a huge pneumatic nail gun. I was lucky there, because I got hearing protection. Imagine a workshop where at one side, someone is enthusiastically shooting four inch nails into wood and cutting timber (That would be me), while on the other end, someone is sawing aluminium strips with an electric cutter (the loudest and most penetrating noise I have ever come by without putting my head in a running jet engine). In the middle, people were doing light assembly work without hearing protection whatsoever (yay!). So I was lucky, and working fast, creating loads of pallets. This was fun!

Skip to day two: Oops, they needed a different size pallets. Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm I had run out of timber the first day. So I got fired for working too hard... In their words, my working ethos did not match to that of the company. Judging from the long-term employees there, I think they were right.

On the opposite end of Health and Safety, as part of one job I had to re-package the chemical agents used to keep the water in swimming pools safe. This time imagine a desk with air extractor fan over it, then put on coveralls, safety shoes, latex gloves, leather apron, leather gloves, full face mask and heavy-duty breathing filter. Darth Vader must have felt like this. (even the breathing sound was right, the force wouldn't come, though). Needless to say, I preferred this company where they did care for my health.

Then there were the other jobs:

In the gingerbread factory, I witnessed a violent gingerbread bar overflow, when one bar got stuck on a high speed conveyor belt. Someone had to go and remove the rogue gingerbread while under heavy bar-fire. We also found out that a certain magnet, placed in a seemingly random location on the housing of the packaging machine, could bring the whole process to a halt when moved elsewhere. You could call that a secret safety feature. (The other workers gave it many other names, which I decline to repeat here). In order to survive my job of stacking boxes of gingerbread at the end of the production line, I started counting how much weight I moved each day. (approximately 4000 kg). Despite that, it wasn't particularly straining work, except when the full pallet had to be wrapped and changed before the buffer was full.

The toughest job was production of concrete lawn ornaments. I hated the acorn/artichoke-shaped things people put on pillars next to their gates. They were nigh impossible to remove from the latex moulds (Try squeezing a baseball sized concrete thing through a coin-sized hole. It fights back). The trouble with rabbits and eagles was not to break off the fiddly bits like ears and wingtips.

I spent one day masking prototype headlight lenses before spraying in the reflective coating. The interesting bit is that I guessed the brand correctly and saw it on the road one year later, despite it being an entirely new design for that brand.

One memorable one-day job was moving an office over the weekend. That was fun. Especially since the archive room in the new office was smaller than in the old one, and any box containing stuff with no definite destination was labelled "archive". So we filled the archive to the ceiling, then continued with the corridors. Still wondering how the office workers reacted on Monday.

In one case I declined a job offer from one agency as it didn’t sound very interesting. They were highly annoyed when they found out I unknowingly took the same job from one of their competitors, who had an entirely different but much more accurate description of what I had to do.

The important lesson I learnt in these six months was: There is a good reason to get yourself educated. Otherwise you will end up with jobs like this for the rest of your life. Another one was that the atmosphere in a company can be more important than the actual job to get job satisfaction.

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