by Mike Day
Choices to make. Warning contains strong language and an industrial accident.
By Mike Day
Word Count: 2237
Maybe it was the sound of grinding metal that made the Work’s Manager look up, or it could have been the shouts of alarm that punctured the background machine noise. Either way he knew that something had just gone badly wrong.
Down on the shop floor the Foreman was bellowing for someone to fetch the first-aider. The sounds of running presses and lathes began to die in a rapidly expanding circle as the shift workers hit red stop buttons. Heads craned around to see what had happened.
Peggy, the only first-aid trained employee on site that evening, hurried down the central gangway from the purchasing office. Operators watched in silence from their own machines, wondering who was hurt.
‘Oh god’ she muttered as she saw that they were near the big thousand tonne press. If anything had happened to the operator it was bound to be bad.
The foreman looked up from where he crouched in front of the giant machine. ‘His arm…’
Behind him she saw the casualty, stretched out on a wooden pallet that he usually used as a makeshift stand to insulate his feet from the hard concrete floor. Under the sides of the pallet blood continued to spread in an oily pool.
‘Shift out the way’ she barked with new found authority.
He shuffled to one side; his hands still pressed to what remained of the poor man’s arm. Blood pushed out between his fingers in thick red pulses.
You’re going to be fine, absolutely fine, Okay?’ It seemed as though she were trying to convince herself as much as the patient. She tore open the small plastic tool box that contained the company’s first-aid kit and pulled out bandage after bandage, ‘Fuck, there aren’t even any bastard pads.’ She glanced around desperately until she saw Tim the labourer. ‘Tim, give me your shirt quick.
He hesitated and Paddy the Foreman, snarled at him to get a move on. Shaken out of his lethargy he pulled the tee-shirt over his head and threw it to her.
Her hands shook and she could hear her own heart pound in her ears as she balled it up into a rough pad. ‘Right, I’m going to cover your hands with this, when I put the pressure on I want you to slide your hands out, okay?’
He looked gratefully at her, ‘I’ll call an ambulance.’
‘No, tell someone else to do it, I need you here.’ She glanced at him for a moment, before pressing down hard on the stump. The wounded man, Billy Edwards, groaned and tried to pull away. He wasn’t completely unconscious but he was close enough not to understand that they were trying to help.
As soon as Paddy’s hands were free he grabbed the man’s shoulders and held him firmly in place. ‘Tim, run and tell Mr Walton to phone for an ambulance, tell him Billy’s lost an arm. Go!’
Billy was pale; faint blue veins formed traceries under his increasingly translucent skin. She glanced at the Foreman again, ‘If he stops breathing were going to have to resuscitate him. You grab this and hold it as tight as you can, I’ll try and get him breathing, okay?’
‘Why’s he going to stop breathing?’ The big man sounded close to panic.
‘He might, his heart, not enough blood, understand,’ they both looked at Paddy’s face and said nothing.
Jill, one of the small press operators, came from behind the machine. ‘I had a look for his arm, you know, so that they could sew it back on. It’s all…’ she looked sick and turned away from them. Her hunched shoulders shook as she threw up.
‘Jill…Jill listen to me,’ said Peggy, ‘I want you to get a friend and go and sit quietly in the canteen, have a cup of tea, okay? The last thing we need now is you collapsing from shock.’
The tubby looking woman in the sick smeared overall looked embarrassed and shook her head, ‘I’m okay, can I help?’
‘Yes, do as I asked,’ Peggy knew she was being short with her but she needed to concentrate.
Paddy nodded his head towards the canteen up on the mezzanine, reinforcing the point. ‘Go on, we’ve got it covered.’
She shrugged apologetically and headed for the toilets.
‘Paddy, get someone to get blankets or coats, we’ve got to keep him warm.’
A man in his mid thirties pushed his way through the gathering crowd, ‘Yeah?’
‘Get as many coats out of the cloak room as you can carry and bring them here, understand?’
The man grunted and turned for the coats.
‘Here! Don’t you get using mine,’ shouted Davy, the company arsehole.
‘Oh fuck off you tight fisted git!’ Paddy growled. There were a lot of murmured agreements.
‘Billy!’ it was Peggy, ‘He’s not breathing! Grab this,’ she shouted at Paddy. As soon as he had hold of the pad she scooted around to get beside Billy’s head. With desperate urgency she tilted his head back and opened his mouth; covered it with hers and blew, then a second and a third. Her hand felt at his throat, ‘I think there’s a pulse.’
‘Is he breathing?’ Paddy asked, his voice a strangled knot in his throat.
Peggy laid her head flat against his face and looked down at his chest, ‘Yes, but its bloody shallow.’
The foreman turned to the women who stood together to one side. They were all in their forties, prematurely age-hardened by shop floor life, cigarettes hanging from their lips and release oil smeared on their faces. ‘Doreen, go and find out where that fucking ambulance is, and put someone out the front to bring them in here.’
The normally fractious Doreen nodded and pushed passed her cronies to carry out his instructions. Her mate, Cath, raised a heavily painted eyebrow, ‘Proper teacher’s pet ay?’
She gave a sickly half grin, ‘Oh-ah, that’s me, bringing in a bleedin apple tomorrow,’ and with that she hurried away, her ample backside swaying like a rowboat in on choppy sea.
Tony returned puffing and clutching a bunch of coats to his chest. ‘Here you go, top one’s Davy’s if you’re interested.’ He threw the coats down next to them and glanced across at Davy with a look of purest venom.
Peggy started to cover the injured man, all the time she kept up a stream of comforting words in a tight brittle voice. Billy’s eyes fluttered under his lids but he made no sign of hearing her.
Moments later the Works Manager, Tom Granger, came hurrying down the aisle with Doreen jogging behind him. Tom looked worried, ‘How is he?’ he asked Paddy.
Paddy looked up at him from a thousand miles away, ‘Best ask Peggy.’
‘Bad. Is the ambulance on its way?’
‘They said four to five minutes. Is there anything I can do?’
From the back of the gang of workers a man’s voice growled, ‘Yeah, get some fucking guards on them machines.’
Tom turned, his eyes narrowing, as he tried to see who’d said it. ‘All the machines are properly guarded.’
Paddy crouched stiff necked, his attention fixed on Billy. ‘Fuck.’ He muttered under his breath to no one in particular.
‘Is that ambulance here yet?’
Tom Granger spun on his heels and peered over a half dozen heads and after perhaps a minute called ‘Here they come. Come on you lot, give them room,’ he said waving Billy’s colleagues to one side.
The two, green boiler-suited, paramedics threaded passed them and got down to work.
An hour later, after the ambulance’s blue lights had faded down the road Mr Granger, in an unprecedented act of compassion, gave the shop floor the rest of the shift off. ‘Sorry Paddy, you and Peggy will have to come on up and go through the accident forms with me, okay?’ he added as the foreman picked his own jacket up from the discarded pile.
‘Thought it was a bit too good to be true,’ he muttered rubbing the back of his neck.
‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls,’ the Manager said as he put a proprietorial hand on his shoulder.
Peggy stood in the aisle looking at her feet, her toes were pointed ever-so slightly inward, she had a detached look on her delicates features.
‘Peggy? Peggy why don’t you go and get yourself a coffee, maybe have a cigarette break, hey?’ Paddy shrugged off the bosses hand and went over to her, putting his own on her shoulders.
‘Did you see the blood?’ she asked, still staring at the dark stains on her suede pumps.
‘It doesn’t look like that on the tele, you know? Not so, so…’ she stumbled into silence.
‘Real,’ she didn’t move, but he saw a single tear drip from her nose.
‘Come on Peggy, do you want me to phone someone to come and get you?’
‘Yeah… my husband thanks,’ at last she looked up. Her eyes were red from the effort of holding back the tears.
‘We should get this accident report sorted first,’ Mr Granger said in a gentle voice.
‘Oh fuck off Tom. She’s in no state, we can do it and she can look at it in the morning, okay?’
He looked from Paddy to Peggy and shrugged, ‘Suppose so.’
Paddy led her back to her office. The walls were covered in makeshift shelves piled high with box files. Her desk was somewhere under piles of paper and samples and a seventies green screen monitor that nestled in the centre like a gravid bird waiting to lay.
‘Coffee?’ he asked.
‘Have you got Barry’s number to hand?’
She reached for the telephone and picked up the receiver, which was held together with clear tape, and dialled home.
Paddy was surprised when she held the receiver out to him without waiting for her husband to pick up.
‘It’s Paddy O’Bryan down at Tebbit’s. Look, there’s been an accident and…’
‘Oh god, Peggy?’
‘No, no she’s fine. I mean she’s not fine, she had to give first aid to a guy who was pretty badly hurt but she’s not hurt herself… just a bit upset, you know?’
‘Guy got his arm in the big press, lost it. Peggy was bloody marvellous,’ he gave her an encouraging smile, ‘Probably saved his life. Anyway she’s naturally a bit upset right now, so I was hopping you could come and pick her up?’
‘Of course… I can get next door to mind the kids. Tell her I’m on my way. Ten minutes.’
Paddy handed the phone back and she silently replaced it in the cradle. ‘He said he will be here in ten.’
Peggy nodded and tears ran down her face as she smiled her thanks.
He turned away and busied himself sorting out two cups of coffee.
From behind him she asked the question that had been burning in his own mind for the last half hour. ‘How did he get his arm in there? Passed the guard fence I mean?’
‘Don’t know. It can’t have been in place or the press wouldn’t have come down.’
‘Someone fucked up.’
He turned to regard her for a moment. ‘Old Granger is going to want to blame Billy.’
She looked at him for a moment.
Embarrassed he turned away and finished the coffee. When he turned back she was reworking her make up, a determined look on her face. ‘I’m going to get some photos of the machine on my mobile before anyone has a chance to change anything.’ She said.
‘Don’t get yourself in the shit; you know what he’s like.’
‘Look, we both know that he’s been skimping on safety for years. Every order I raise for Health and Safety equipment has been rejected. We don’t even have enough stuff in the first aid kit.’
‘Better go and do it then, I saw him heading over to the maintenance workshop as we came up.’
Her eyes flashed and she bolted out of her chair.
‘Are you sure about this?’ he asked as he sipped at his drink.
As she went out the door he watched her go. He shook his head but his eyes said something else.
After Barry had collected her Paddy went back down to the shop floor. Granger and the head of maintenance were standing by the machine shaking there heads. ‘Paddy, come and have a look at this.’ He pointed to the thin clean metal mesh that formed the guard that rose up automaticaly to stop anyone putting there hands into the cavity when the press faces came together. ‘It’s working fine, all we can think is that he used this pallet on end to reach over the top.’
‘Who knows? Point is that as far as liability is concerned were in the clear.’
‘Poor bastard’s still lost his arm though…’
‘Yeah, well remember, he did this to himself. We provided him with a safe working environment and he got around it.’
Paddy felt his stomach churn and he turned away in case his expression betrayed him.
‘Paddy, we’ll do the paper work in the morning. I just wanted you to know that your job is safe, after all the company didn’t do anything wrong, right?’
Paddy shrugged then nodded, not turning back. He walked to the clock and punched out.