Night Work

During one of our recent projects in a city centre, solely carried out during night shifts, it occurred to me that there are many specific challenges that present themselves during a project like this.

Night work is usually stipulated because of pedestrian public footfall, vehicular traffic and/or retail or business activity; working at night means we can minimise the risks associated with working in and around these factors — so you’d think that the site would be quiet, easier to manage and that productivity would be high.

In our recent night shift project the usual pedestrian shoppers, cars and buses were gone and the retail outlets were closed. But these elements were replaced by the nightlife of the city — students, drinkers, homeless people, street-cleaners, police and emergency services and a whole host of others; the pubs, clubs and night-time trade were all open and thriving — ‘deserted’ never quite happened.

In this case, traffic management was set up to divert pedestrians, and re-direct traffic — an ‘idiot-proof’ system, you’d think. Vehicle drivers were very easy to keep happy, with signs and cones sufficient to manage that risk. Pedestrians, on the other hand, particularly student pedestrians, we found to be somewhat frustrating: two sets of metre-high reflective barriers, with flashing lights and hazard tape, with reflective red signs saying things like ‘No Pedestrian Access’ and ‘Footpath Closed’ still saw people trying to enter the unauthorised area of our works and becoming upset that, for their safety, they couldn’t walk there. Trying to explain to a drunken student that they must walk an extra ten or fifteen metres to continue on their journey seems akin to them being turned away from A&E with a life-threatening injury… and produces a respective reaction.

You can set your watch by the various closing times of each of the local bars and/or clubs, as waves of alcohol-fuelled party-goers emerge seemingly out of nowhere, all desperately trying to dodge through our barriers and eagerly trying to expose themselves to as much danger as they can — each of them believing that in their state of intense inebriation they are immune to any kind of physical harm. Drunk people and traffic cones deserves a whole blog of its own — I’ll say no more, apart from I can’t easily describe the look on peoples’ faces when I retrieve my cone from their head: a mixture of alarm (am I going to hurt them), disappointment (they cannot further impress their friends with their new reflective headwear) and defiance (they truly believe it is their right to steal and wear the cone: how dare I attempt to take it back from them).

In this project, the work was completely successfully, despite the challenges — but my advice to anyone considering night works, in a built-up environment, is to build in lots of contingency for managing the nocturnal public, and deploy plenty of people on the ground. If nothing else, the cones need guarding.