The Golden Gate Bridge at 80

How fitting that one of the best-known symbols of the modern U.S. safety industry is adding stainless steel suicide prevention nets.

An iconic symbol of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge turned 80 a few months ago. At about the same time, in May 2017, work began on a $211 million suicide deterrent system on both sides of the bridge. It took years to reach that point, officials said during a ceremony to mark the start of the stainless steel nets' construction.

How fitting that one of the best-known symbols of the modern U.S. safety industry—Edward W. Bullard developed the hard hats that Bridge Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss insisted be worn by construction workers on the job, according to the archives maintained by the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District,—is adding these nets. There was also a safety net then beneath the entire bridge, a net that saved 19 men who became known as the Halfway-to-Hell Club, according to the archives. They explain that Bullard also designed a sand-blasting respirator helmet for use during construction and that workers used glare-free goggles, special hand and face cream to protect against the wind, and special diets to help fight dizziness.

Eleven workers did die during the work, 10 of them in a single incident when a section of scaffold fell through the net. "The industry norm at that time was that one man would die during construction for every million dollars spent," we're told in a great video about Strauss's safety focus during the construction of the $35 million bridge:

"Joseph Strauss was the leading force behind seeing the Golden Gate Bridge become a reality, hands down. Strauss was the visionary, promoter, team builder, coordinator, and manager of the preliminary and final designs for the Span. He also led the construction of the Bridge, working with a team of engineers, architects, geologists, other professionals, and the many dedicated contractors and workers involved in the project," according to the district.

The suicide deterrent project started with detailed measurements prior to manufacturing of the stainless steel nets. Installation is slated to begin in mid-2018. Similar deterrent systems have been used around the world, but never on this scale, according to the district.

During the ceremony, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called it "a net whose time has really come. Thirty-nine people died last year alone," she added. "What you're doing here today, what the Bridge is doing, what the taxpayers are doing, will hopefully turn that number to zero."

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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