We bought our first mobile phone in 1987, that’s the one, the brick with the ‘hernia’ battery if you opted for 16 hours of battery life instead of eight. We had one on trial from a local supplier, as the whole idea was in its infancy, and a trial wasn’t unusual. Bill (Ellis), never afraid of progress and foresight, decided we’ll make our phone number known to some key suppliers and customers and if we get any work from that we’ll buy it.
In those days we were working all over the country, pre-cast concrete and steel erecting. Some work came in and we were also able to sort some issues on site without stopping everything and having to drive to the nearest phone box laden with 10p coins. So, £1,750 later the phone was ours!
The phones were gathering pace rapidly, soon our now seemingly old fashioned phone was selling for £250.00 and we added a second to fit in the crane that travelled the country and was starting to go out on hire. The benefits of having the phones were quickly apparent, so another crane another phone, this time £25, but we kept the same ‘old’ phone kits, so they were interchangeable in our vehicles.
Our lads at the time, ‘had a go’ with the phone, more as a novelty than anything, if we were working away any private calls were still made from our digs or from call boxes after work.
Scroll forwards 33 years, the phones have advanced beyond all recognition. We had a customer a few years ago who erected radio masts. He had the opportunity to erect masts for the Orange phone network but couldn’t see why anyone would want to have a telephone in their pocket 24/7 and declined the work, sticking to the ‘safer bet’ of his usual work!
Modern phones, not even phones but ‘handheld devices’ are undoubtedly a triumph of technology with endless benefits and uses, but then the ironically named, social media arrived, often the most antisocial use of these devices. Again, lots of benefits and quite frankly the unbelievable ability to speak to and see someone simultaneously, on the other side of the world, stuff that we conjured up in our minds when I was at school. I have family that live abroad and can send a message instantly, unfortunately long gone are handwritten letters and the excitement of a long awaited reply.
I’m not old fashioned, stuck in the past or afraid of change but here’s the issue. In my opinion these handheld devices have turned into an epidemic of unbelievable proportions with the way some of our work forces use them unnecessarily during working hours.
I’ve had conversations with lots of businesses owners in all sorts of trades and they all tell the same tale, “phones always stuck to his ear” or “if you can get him off his phone”. I know some sites have phone zones, phone use outside of which is prohibited. Should this now be a standard site regulation akin to other health and safety requirements like hard hats, protective footwear etc... and enforced in the same way? Surely, we can’t let the brilliance of this technology be a hindrance to our own services and skills.
However much we drum it into them, we can’t police our staff when they are on a customer’s site so maybe the sites should help uphold this. Genuine necessary calls for reasons such as breakdowns, site issues or alterations to a hire term, can usually be made, with permission, in a few minutes. Each to their own but Snapchatting or Facebooking what you had for breakfast is not only unnecessary during working hours, but it also seems to me, a bit odd!
Yes, I’ve written this on a handheld device, yes, I’ve posted updates and information about our company and services on Facebook and LinkedIn and why not, that’s what it’s there for. But surely there’s a time and a place for everything and during the whole of lifting operations of any sort on site big or small, in my opinion, isn’t it?
I know the old school that may read this might feel they are being tarred with the same brush, and probably couldn’t care less about social media, it’s not meant as a sweeping statement, but there is a problem emerging in the construction industry that I for one would like to see contained.
There’s some graffiti on a wall in Gloucester next to the image of Albert Einstein that reads: 'Smart Phones, Stupid People!'
Ellis Crane Hire – UK
Simon Ellis is managing director of Ellis Crane Hire which was founded over 36 years ago along with his father Bill Ellis. The company runs an extensive fleet of a dozen All Terrain and truck cranes, topped by a 90 tonne Liebherr, and covers Gloucester and the surrounding areas.