Concrete Workers Perform Exorcism on a Power Trowel

Runaway power trowel -- safety management plan, and a call to actionA concrete motor trowel is used on construction sites to smooth finished surfaces. This one has a mind of its own. Watch this video, a little over 2 minutes long, complete with snarky (but genuinely funny) commentary from the guys behind the camera.

Think John Belushi as the Samurai in the kitchen, crossed with a bullfight. Maybe throw in the Three Stooges.

Perhaps the spirits deep under the construction site finally had enough. Motors, noise, too many humans, and a hard slab poured over their very own piece of hard packed earth. Get a spirit riled and you have trouble. It rose to the surface and took possession of the concrete motor trowel.

Actually it’s a gas powered piece of machinery that wouldn’t switch off, and that elicited several different responses (with various degrees of safety-mindedness) that can act as lessons-learned for the rest of us.

Response #1: Observe the Safety Problem

The video shows a range of responses to a safety issue. Most of the workers deserve at least some credit for avoiding trouble. They simply stand there and don’t do anything. It was probably close to break time anyway.

Response #2: Interrupt the Action50 things you must know about safety leadership

A few brave souls decided to take on the possessed trowel. Poking it with a stick clearly made it angrier. This was probably not a good way to diffuse the issue.

It is also not likely listed in any company’s safety management plan, though it’s not clear if such plans routinely covered runaway concrete motor trowels before. They probably do now.

Response #3: Douse Water on the Problem

The water was not a smart idea. This is a gas powered piece of machinery. Gas and water don’t mix.

And the water probably won’t do anything but get the disturbed spirit now in charge of the trowel really ticked off. Those kind of spirits don’t drown easily.

So far the fearless concrete workers have poked the trowel with a big stick and thrown water on it. This is not the way to make friends. Or turn off a gas powered piece of machinery run amuck.

Response #4: Cover up the Problem

The tarp was an interesting idea. Just cover the whole thing up and walk away. Maybe without an audience, the spirit will calm down and leave the innocent trowel. When motor trowels become possessed by spirits disturbed by construction work, often tiptoeing away is the best solution.

On the other hand, it won’t do much for a gas powered trowel, except wrap itself around it.

Response #5: Choke the Possessed Machine

From a safety management plan perspective, trying to grab the tarp was a big no-no. The worker could easily get pulled off his feet, falling and injuring himself.

Looking at it from the possession angle, it simply proves to the spirit that there is no good will to be found above ground.  This makes him angrier.

Response #6: Contain It and Just Let it Die

What should the workers who tried to poke, drown and strangle the trowel have done instead? Follow the lead of their coworkers who viewed it as a spectator sport.  Even bringing their lunches so they could continue watching would have been fine from a safety perspective as long as they stayed far enough away.

The fact is, a gas powered engine will eventually run out of fuel. The machine will then stop.

fctc-online-bannerOn a prevention note, a commenter on the original YouTube video notes that this same thing happened to him (clearly, there are spirits lurking under many construction sites). Part of his comment read “after it happened a few times,” which seems to indicate there’s probably room for improvement in the safety management plan of this site.

At first workers attached a rope to a kill switch. But apparently the safety officer in charge got busy. Now they have a safety switch that is sensitive when it gets away from the operator. It cuts off automatically; a new requirement on commercial pours.

Sounds like a good safety management plan. But does it contain instructions for an exorcism?

Video below:

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About the Author

safetyBUILT-IN is the safety-leadership learning and development division of SCInc. We believe sustainable safety performance is best achieved through a core-values based safety culture, and that culture must be driven by leadership. Our safety-leadership programs are competency-based, and focused on performance outcomes. We believe in building capability and ownership into our client organizations—as well as sustainability into our programs—so that our clients can continue running those programs long after we’re out of the picture. Our emphasis is on building better leadership presence, better leadership communication and better leadership coaching by first building relationships of trust with people and learning how to engage them on the level of their core values and beliefs.