Lisa Pitt, from Thompsons’ Solicitors, visits Devonport Royal Dockyard as a guest of Unite
“I’d never given much thought as to how lucky I am to work in an air-conditioned office until I was plunged into the bowels of a ship.
“The noise in the engine room of HMS Scott was incredible and the vibration could be felt through my feet, up through my body and literally made my teeth rattle. There was limited space in what was already a pretty horrible environment. It was hot, smelly, dirty with limited light plus the added concern of making sure I wasn’t in anyone else’s way.
“The engine room is in the hull of the boat and creates savage, sweaty hot conditions during the summer but a freezing cold environment in the winter. When the ship is in the water and the engine is below the waterline, it is bitterly cold all the time. Men and women work in this environment all of their working day, often 12-hour shifts, day after day.
“It made me grateful to spend my working life in the safety and warmth of an office.
“My two colleagues, Julie Boote and Emma Dunn, and I were visiting Devonport Royal Dockyard at the invitation of John Bennett from Unite, with the aim to giving us a good picture of the working conditions of our clients.
“The visit started with the tour of the factory which is a large Grade 1 Listed leaky building. The dockyard aimed to fill their 100 apprenticeship positions this year and take great pride in the apprentices’ achievements, displaying competition- winning pieces of work.
“The employers claim to take health and safety seriously within the factory and there has been investment in improving equipment and in particular ventilation systems for ‘hot work’ and press machines.
“We then went to the Dry Dock to look at a ship that was being refurbished. The sheer scale of the operation was breath-taking with people and machinery everywhere. The amount of planning and organisation that must go into each refurbishment is immense with it taking, on average, five years to prepare, budget and plan for every eventuality before the ships can dock.
“After donning overalls, safety shoes, hard hats, high visibility jackets and safety glasses we were given permission by the ship’s captain to board HMS Scott and were shown around the engine room. Whilst waiting to gain access to the engine room some ‘nobbling’ work was being carried out on the deck below.
“We have a lot of clients who have been exposed to excessive noise whilst working at the dockyard and on many occasions have I been told by them how difficult their working conditions are. But I never fully appreciated it until my visit. The noise from the ‘nobbling’ work being carried out with the use of a needle gun was incredible.
“Having never visited the dockyard before, I didn’t know what to expect and, however much I enjoyed the experience, I’m glad it’s not my permanent place of work.”
* Lisa Pitt works for Thompsons Solicitors in Plymouth
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