March 17, 2007

More OSHA (un)approved

Honduran home constructionHomemade ladder and scaffolding

Reader Juan left a link to a picture of construction scaffolding in Mexico in his comment to my previous article. That made me think about some old construction pictures, so I decided you might be interested in the andamios (scaffolding) that were used on our house construction.

If you can open this photo and enlarge it (Google's free Picasa is excellent for that), you'll see the homemade ladder and the andamios in more detail. Braces of 2"x4"s are nailed to the window frames and/or nailed to a vertical board standing inside the house to support the tall vertical 2"x4"s outside the house − kind of like an 'H' with a short leg on one side. The horizontal 2"x10"s or even two 1"x10"s stacked together are what the workers walk on.

I'm not going to translate the measurements to centimeters because here in Honduras, although we use the metric system for most measurements, wood is measured in inches and feet. A 2x4" board would measure 5x10 cm. (As an aside, meat and vegetables are measured in pounds, not kilograms.)

The braces placed at an angle appear to be haphazard but these guys know what they are doing. Each albañil (mason) usually builds his own andamio − I would, too, wouldn't you?

The scaffolding had to be more or less rebuilt higher every 6 feet (2 m.) so the workers could reach where they needed to work.
It was incredible to see how quickly the albañiles could build one of these scaffolds, tear it down and then build another one in another location.

The back of the house is much taller than the front due to the slope of the property and the fact that we have a second story on part of the house. This roof line is at least 20 feet high. The albañiles stood on that upper horizontal board to do the stucco work. They needed the boards elsewhere so afterward they tore it down and built another one. Later the sheet rock workers came along and built their own andamio to do the soffit under the roof.

I had occasion a few times to walk on some of these andamios (not this one!). The horizontal boards would bounce and sag with each step. I was scared to death.

If you can enlarge this photo, you'll see that two smaller ladders were nailed together in order to reach the taller part of the house. It seems to be the custom with each batch of wood to cut all the small pieces needed and then nail them back together when they needed long pieces.

The same happens with the ladders. The electricista (electrician) cut this ladder in half when he needed a short one and then the tabla yeso (sheet rock) guys nailed it back together when they needed a tall one.

Amazingly, no one got hurt anytime on our construction, except me. One day the front doorway was blocked with andamio braces so I climbed in a nearby window. I was paying so much attention to not stepping on nails or tearing my clothes on nails sticking out of boards (as I did so often) that I rammed my head right into the end of a 2"x4" board which was sticking out the side of the window.

You know how when you bump your head and it hurts so much that you think it must be bleeding so you reach up to put your hand on it? Well, I did and my hand came back drenched with blood.

I sat down on the window sill a little stunned and called for El Jefe. He was busy upstairs passing out cokes and snacks to the workers and yelled, "Yeah, yeah, just a minute." I called again with more urgency. Meanwhile, blood was gushing all over the ground, dripping down my face onto my clothes. One of the workers rushed over. He took one look and yelled, "Get your #*& down here now, Jefe!" He gave me a dirty rag to put over the wound which I gladly used.

El Jefe rushed me to Hospital D'Antoni where they stitched up my head, which later swelled up like a lopsided cantaloupe. I had a black eye and I looked so freaky with my melon-head that I didn't leave the house or answer the door for a week. Uh, I won't be showing pictures of that, even though El Jefe did feel compelled to take a photo of that grotesque sight!

Believe it or not, a situation arose in which El Jefe and I had to climb all over this steep roof and measure the whole darn thing. That's a whole 'nother story, but let me tell you, this roof is steep. The workers walked all over the roof like it was nothing. I mostly crawled hanging on to those boards like my life depended on it. I'm not good with heights at all. Everyone was incredulous that a woman would do that.

We also found that we can see the ocean from our roof. Too bad we didn't build a terrace up there like many folks do.

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