No Room for Routine at work

Whether it be industrial diving, tunnel blasting or high-rise window cleaning, special tasks require thorough preparation, extreme care and concentration.

At work, Marcus Diedrich is often unable to see his own hand in front of his eyes. It’s often cold and grim below the surface. “The environments in which we work are generally hostile to human life,” he says. Diedrich works in places that would be perilous to non-experts: in cooling water reservoirs for power plants, flooded wells, water towers and canals. Meet Marcus Diedrich, Industrial Diver. This diving job is a far cry from snorkeling Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Yet still, he can’t imagine doing anything else. “It was a dream of mine from a young age,” explains Diedrich, whose diving career began when he was in the military. And when he talks about his job, it quickly becomes clear – this is more than a source of income. It’s his calling. “You don’t become a diver. You are a diver,” asserts Diedrich, for whom regular training is a matter of course. Despite having been in the business for 21 years, he still gets those moments – situations in which the learned professional experiences the butterflies in his stomach, the thirst for adventure that drives him. Routine has no place in the world of Diedrich and his colleagues.

Remain calm, work stress-free

Every assignment is planned meticulously from the very beginning. “It’s massively important that we stay calm and don’t get stressed. The more dangerous the situation, the more relaxed we must be.” Only in proceeding with greatest caution can one ensure that nothing is forgotten. Is all the equipment in order? What does the risk assessment say? Is the dive site contaminated? Diedrich and his colleagues work through an eight-A4-page checklist before every deployment, ticking off each individual point to make sure nothing is left out. If one of the team doesn’t feel comfortable in their prescribed role, they are substituted by someone else. Then the real job begins. Divers are underwater stonemasons, metalworkers, carpenters, and – on occasion – electricians and galvanizers.

“We’re lucky to say that we haven’t yet had any accidents,” states Marcus Diedrich. Pausing for thought, he adds: “As an industrial diver, I need to know exactly what I can and what I can’t do.”

Fatih Yilmaz is a work safety expert for DEKRA. He is well-versed in jobs that need special safety precautions. Both being able to correctly estimate one’s own skills and knowing what isn’t possible are important in ensuring the safest possible execution of a task. “People in spectacular jobs are generally well-aware of the risks associated with their lines of work. That has plenty of benefits, as it leads them to work in a structured, systematic manner. It’s also a reason that relatively few accidents happen when you consider the dangers involved.”

Conversely, the situation can get critical when too much routine comes into the equation. This can lead to less care being taken in preparing an assignment, and each and every detail not being given sufficient consideration. “In such cases, there is far less attention paid to important details,” explains Yilmaz.

Plan meticulously, evaluate carefully

It is precisely those little details that are decisive in whether a deployment is a success or a failure. Roland Imfeld is all too aware of that. He has been involved in several thousand detonations. He doesn’t have the exact number to hand. “But there’s been a lot, that’s for sure,” he says with a grin. Despite this, his job has never become a matter of routine. The 52-year-old is site manager for tunnel blasting operations. He’s been all around Switzerland with his employer, Gasser Felstechnik AG. If there’s a tunnel in development and rock in the way, Imfeld is at the ready. Imfeld and his colleagues are constantly faced with risky situations – such as where the rock is fragile and boulders threaten to fall on the miners and demoli-tion experts below. The site manager knows that in such moments, things need to happen quickly. “First of all, we need to make sure that the rock is secured.” After all, the safety of all involved is first priority. The tunnel must wait.

Before Imfeld and his team can begin blasting, there is a range of preparatory work to be completed. The site manager carries out measurements and checks whether there is gas in the rock that could explode during blasting. Imfeld plans, organizes, evaluates – in short, he leads by example. From the correct protective gear to the rigorous enforcement of work safety measures and complete, comprehensible documentation of the entire building process, Imfeld is meticulous. Only when absolutely everything is in order does the real work get underway.

This is a point that Fatih Yilmaz highlights: “It’s important to prepare, as there isn’t a master plan. Each workplace needs to be evaluated individually before the assignment can begin. The next assignment is never the same as the last one.”

In order to avoid accidents, it is important to adhere to all applicable regulations. “Especially in dangerous jobs, there are crucial safety rules,” explains the DEKRA expert, before continuing: “Such rules include the stipulation that only inspected equipment is used.” As spectacular professions are often very demanding, another requirement is that one keeps fit. “Taking care of oneself is the most important capital,” says Yilmaz. Too little sleep or the effects of alcohol can be fatal here. A good level of education and plenty of experience are also prerequisite to performing risk-filled jobs safely.

Look carefully, use the checklist

Both play an important role for Jeffrey Scott. “Getting up” has a different meaning for the 45-year-old. He cleans the windows of skyscrapers in the US state of Wisconsin. Scott also trains other window cleaners, preparing them to work safely at the dizzying heights themselves. “We plan each deployment precisely,” says Scott.

Before he and his team get to work on clearing your view, they take their workplace under the magnifying glass. Nothing is left to chance. “We always work to a well-defined system and work through each point before beginning an assignment. After all, safety is everything.” Whether it’s to make sure they have the right gear, or that the equipment to keep the window-cleaners truly safe at height is working faultlessly, Scott inspects everything before every job. He believes that his chosen career is not especially risky, if all precautions are taken. “The most dangerous part is the journey to work,” he explains with a chuckle.

Jeffrey Scott and his colleagues always work as a team. “You’re never alone on an assignment.” That’s something that he inherited from his parents – Scott is a second generation high-rise win-dow cleaner. “I grew up with it. Even as a boy, I accompanied my father every now and then,” explains Jeffrey Scott. Then he has to dash. The next assignment – the windows of a 120 meter tall office building – are already waiting.

Author: Daniela Lukaßen