Opportunities for do-overs are rare in the column biz. The scribbling finger of Time rushes on, and each new situation tends to be unique.
But sometimes the chance does arise. When Notre Dame Cathedral burned in Paris Monday, I leaped onto social media, with everyone else, saying the first thing to pop into mind, like everybody else.
“How could this happen?” The question answers itself. The scaffolding! It was the roofers. I remembered a column written in 2006 when the Pilgrim Baptist Church burned, inspiring me to flip open my tool box and grab the 2-pound sarcasm drilling hammer: “… city officials speculated that roofers working on the church just might have touched off the blaze. Gee, ya think?” I wrote, almost gleeful. “You mean the guys with blowtorches working at the exact spot the fire broke out? Now there’s a theory. It’s ALWAYS the roofers …”
Chicago is a city of laborers, contractors, masons, pipe fitters, plumbers, iron workers, crane operators, site foremen and, yes, roofers. Perhaps some after-echo of every single one of them looking up from their Sun-Times in 2006 and muttering“schmuck” caused me to set down the hammer, pick up a phone and actually do my job.
“It’s awfully easy to say, ‘Oh, Bob did it,'” said Tim Fisher, director of the American Society of Safety Professionals, based in Park Ridge. “I was a firefighter. I’ve investigated hundreds of incidents, and very rarely did I find an incident caused because of negligence — usually something went with it, a series of circumstances that compile.”
Fisher recalled a fire where a cement mixer shorted out and set fire to lumber stacked nearby.
The blame belonged … where? To the guy in charge of maintaining the mixer? The person running it? The worker who stacked the lumber? Or the foreman overseeing them all?
“In this organization, we don’t believe in blaming the worker,” Fisher said. “We believe a lot in identifying what we call the ‘key factor.'”
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