You ask about jobsite quality of life and comforts for workers, and whether those words mean much to an ironworker and ironworker superintendent like me. After all my years in the field, I want to say that pride and safety matter as much or more than comfort.


Part of the comfort of the job is having clean toilets and wash stations and access to good drinking water. Something other than the hose at the gas station you drove past to get to the job.

Part of comfort is knowing that the excavation you are going to go into is safe from collapse, and that you have good access to the work area; that there are proper handrails in place in the building where you are about to start laying iron, whether it�s on a ramp, ladder or manlift; or that all openings are covered to prevent falls.

Comfort is knowing that the equipment you are using is capable of doing the job. It is having operators who know what they are doing with a crane, boom truck, forklift or backhoe (even though it�s up to the ironworker superintendents to make sure they have the right equipment before the workers get to the job).

Part of comfort is to be free from a contractor telling you how to be safe doing your job. That applies to tying off on a wall that is a certain height, which could make the condition more unsafe using a lanyard while moving from point to point because you can get tangled in the lanyard. It also applies to using gloves when you can get your hands caught on something, like a piece of equipment or on the eye of a hook hoisting the rebar. You also don�t have the same dexterity to grasp things.

Safety glasses are another example. They're good in most conditions, but when you get hot and sweaty as ironworkers do, or should be if you�re doing what you're supposed to be doing, they tend to fog up and create an unsafe condition especially when you are climbing a wall, column or walking on a rebar mat that is eight feet deep.

Part of comfort would be to have a nice place to take a break or eat lunch out of the weather, away from the heat or rain, but workers cannot go far when breaks are just 10 minutes long and lunch is 30 minutes. Not wanting to waste precious break time, they will go under formwork close to their work area.

Part of packing a lunch is the primitive pride in being self-contained and being able to take care of yourself in any environment. It's nice on some jobs to be able to go to restaurants or have access to a catering truck (one that does not give you food poisoning), but that isn't always the case.

Some trades make it a point to come down to their trailers for breaks and for lunch. This may stretch breaks out, which leads to complacency on the job, making it more like a social gathering than a workplace.

Ironworkers want to hurry up and get the job done. They know how much work is expected of them, and if they can do it better, it gives them even more fulfillment. They want to try to out-do the next guy, proving their value and winning bragging rights.

Pride is part of the lure of wanting to be an ironworker. The pride comes from saying you've worked on that bridge or that building. It�s pride in knowing you�re part of an elite group of people who have shown that they can withstand physical exertion and have the stamina and the dexterity to make it through the day on a construction site.

It's pride in working as a crew, to get the job done safely and then to go home.

Jerry Patchin is an ironworker superintendent affiliated with Local 378 in Oakland. He works for the Livermore, Calif., office of Harris Rebar. His slide show on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Project, Through the Eyes of a Rodbuster, is in the multimedia section at the bottom of the homepage.