Three times we have posted on the arcane topic of manhole covers. On the first it was to ask why manhole covers are round. On the second it was to elaborate on the theme of the first post, with reader assistance, and exhibit a stunning examples of manhole cover art with links to others. On the third it was to wonder how it was possible for a person or a dog to get shocked from a metal cover that is literally grounded. All of the posts concerned, at least in part, safety issues.
Jordan Barab, former blogmeister of Confined Space, sends us another important public health aspect of manhole covers. Most manholes used in the US are actually made in India or China:
Seemingly impervious to the heat from the metal, the workers at one of West Bengal’s many foundries relied on strength and bare hands rather than machinery. Safety precautions were barely in evidence; just a few pairs of eye goggles were seen in use on a recent visit. The foundry, Shakti Industries in Haora, produces manhole covers for Con Edison and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, as well as for departments in New Orleans and Syracuse.
The scene was as spectacular as it was anachronistic: flames, sweat and liquid iron mixing in the smoke like something from the Middle Ages. That’s what attracted the interest of a photographer who often works for The New York Times ? images that practically radiate heat and illustrate where New York’s manhole covers are born.
When officials at Con Edison — which buys a quarter of its manhole covers, roughly 2,750 a year, from India — were shown the pictures by the photographer, they said they were surprised. (New York Times)
If Con Ed was surprised it is only because they never bothered to think about it. Worker safety is like that. Employers usually don’t care unless some one makes them care. No one made them care about workers in West Bengal. Now they say they do care and will rfewrite their contracts (presumably waiting for the ones in force to elapse) to include “safety requirements.” Requirements is a strong word. Here’s what Con Ed seems to mean by it:
Contracts will now require overseas manufacturers to “take appropriate actions to provide a safe and healthy workplace,” and to follow local and federal guidelines in India, Mr. Clendenin said.
Call me cynical, but I am not optimistic.