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Any colour you like as long as it’s hard – and bring on the clowns

This week the Guardian became very excited about the fact that hard hats are to be colour-coded according to job function – and Bob the Builder yellow will disappear. I suppose there is a point about being able to identify roles on site, although if hardly seems to matter if you are engineer or labourer if a scaffold pole hits your head.

And hard hats of course are all about safety. I was amazed to read that they only became compulsory in 1990. Surely that can’t be true? Site safety has certainly become more stringent, and quite right too, given the fact that the construction industry has had such an appalling record of accidents.

In the days when I wrote about construction, things were a lot less strict. Not good in many ways, but it did mean I had a lot of fun. I not only needed to see the sites, but also to take pictures, so went up ladders, down holes and virtually everywhere I could. That meant crawling through a sewer on my knees (yuck, I think my waders sprung a leak), walking along the wavery platform on which cables were being spun, climbing down a ladder through the centre of a water tower and being hoisted up in the bucket of a tower crane.

All of which would have been better if I hadn’t been so clumsy. Walking through wet concrete was mostly an annoyance, for me and everyone else. Falling through the floor was less amusing. I was looking through my camera, trying to get the best shot and didn’t notice that the yellowish hardboard on which I was standing ran out and there was just yellowish insulation. On which I stood, and next moment I was not standing, but sitting, balanced precariously and painfully on a beam.

The site manager hauled me up. I was firstly scared for my camera, and then very apologetic for my stupidity. It took me months to realise that they must have been scared stiff – injuring a journalist is not good publicity. So we all repaired to the pub for lots of drinks (I told you this was a long time ago) to calm my nerves and, in my case, to act as a painkiller.

And what about the clowns?

They have had a bad press recently. But the site manager, who was under five foot, was a semi-professional clown in his spare time. And that, I believe, was what gave him the strength to haul me off that damned beam.

Bring on the clowns, I say.

Ruth Slavid

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