February 17th, 1937, twelve construction workers fell to their deaths while attempting to remove scaffolding from underneath a platform on the Golden Gate Bridge. On the 26th of September, 2001, a 2 1/2-ton plywood-and-steel panel built to protect motorists from Bay Bridge retrofit work collapsed into the eastbound traffic, crushing a pickup truck and killing its driver. April 1st, 2002, cranes and scaffolding at a high-rise building crashed to the ground after an earthquake jolted Taiwan–killing five construction workers. These accidents illustrate the inherent risk in construction work involving large structures. There is usually a price to be paid in human terms for these awe-inspiring improvements.
Case in point, approximately ten years ago during one of my visits to Taiwan a corner construction site for a high-rise condominium complex had started to go up. Well, not exactly going up, but more of a dredging and excavation of an area where the foundation was to be poured. This was a plodding methodical churning of mud coupled with a sustained flush of a subterranean sewer until the surface area had clotted resulting in a hardened mass of goo just right for paving. This operation appeared to be taking forever and a day because each time I returned to Taiwan over the next couple of years the construction site seemed to be in the same condition as it was the last time I was there.
My next trip had a more lengthy in between time–I hadn’t been to Taiwan for nearly eight years. This trip revealed a marked improvement in the pace of construction, and for icing on the cake a new subway station had been added right next to the now fully developed high rise building. During these final phases of construction (mainly internal), a metal canopy had been constructed along with a large blue tarp enveloping most of the building’s lower floors to protect the pedestrian traffic below from inadvertent falling objects. When in Taiwan I am always mindful when walking by high rise buildings to look up. For whatever reason, I’ve always been on guard for a falling wrench or hammer or piece of scaffolding or even, God forbid, a falling body. Wincing with regret when I’ve forgotten to either look up or simply forgetting to use the overhanging roof of a building over a walkway.
There came a day when I was exiting the subway at the new station only to encounter a yellow taped off area and a transit cop directing me to an exit that would be taking me across the street. Hmm…what was this all about? As I made my way up the stairs and onto the street facing directly in front of the high rise building, I could see scaffolding that had fallen to the ground and more scaffolding perilously dangling from the building’s edifice. What I always feared had happened. The winds aloft swirled around this building breaking scaffolding loose from its moorings. I suspect the construction crew hadn’t anticipated this possible mishap (although I don’t understand why they wouldn’t) and somewhere someone hadn’t securely latched down the scaffolds.
Having seen my fears realized, I think I’ll take to wearing a hard hat as I traverse the sidewalks of Taiwan.