ICS Magazine

Safety Gone Wrong

May 17, 2010
Last week I received an email with the headline, “Have a Safe Work Week” from blogger extraordinaire John Sonnehalter. John was promoting North American Occupational Safety & Health Week, which ran May 2-8. I had great intentions of blogging on this topic during the designated week. 

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Last week I received an email with the headline, “Have a Safe Work Week” from blogger extraordinaire John Sonnehalter (www.tradesmeninsights.com). John was promoting North American Occupational Safety & Health Week, which ran May 2-8. I had great intentions of blogging on this topic during the designated week.

However, maybe it’s good I missed the assigned week. By waiting, hopefully I can help you extend your focus on safety for another week. Not to be overly dramatic, but construction safety can be a matter of life and death.

During my 28 years focused on the trades, I’ve written, edited or read too many stories of safety gone wrong. Sadly, many accidents resulted in deaths or disabilities.  These tragedies include falls, trench collapses, burst pipes, equipment failures, severed digits/limbs, noxious poisonings, suffocations, and electrocutions.

Many of these accidents were preventable. Often, standard safety measures were ignored, equipment was improperly maintained, or someone acted carelessly.

As I write on this topic, I am personally convicted. Based on my own actions, I could be a poster child for safety ignorance. Here are a few of my reckless incidents:

*Shocked myself replacing a light fixture
*Fell from ladder smashing it to pieces with my hip
*Knocked myself out while removing header braces
*Severed a finger tip while “speed pruning”

You would think by the advanced age of 51, I would have learned to avoid stupid risks. You would be wrong.

Last summer, I borrowed a neighbor’s reciprocating saw to remove limbs from the trees on my lot. I had not used this power tool before and became enamored with the ease of removing branches.

In an act that clearly demonstrated my safety stupidity, I climbed to the top of my fully extended four-section ladder to prune branches well above the roofline. One branch was just out of my reach. Egged on by my terra firma-planted son, I held the tree with one arm and swung the powerful saw wildly above my head.

The good news was I cut through the branch. The bad news was it was a clean slice and the weight of the tool brought the reciprocating blade down to my shoulder. Somehow, the still-moving blade missed cutting me by an inch. I immediately retreated to the ground.

That “clean slice” through the branch could have ended very badly for me as I was completely vulnerable 20-plus feet above ground. Perhaps worse, I did this in front of my son. Fortunately, he’s way smarter and far more cautious than me. This is obviously my wife’s influence.

No matter what part of the construction market you serve – manufacturing, design, installation, maintenance, training, warehousing, or logistics – we all need to make safety a top priority.

Imagine safety this way. Do you want to make a phone call to the family of a co-worker who was involved in a tragic accident? Do you want your family to get that call?

Chances are you already know what safety practices to follow. Take a few minutes this week (every week?) to review them and share them with your co-workers.

Years ago, I enjoyed watching the police drama Hill Street Blues. At the beginning of each episode, Sgt. Phil Esterhaus would challenge the force to catch various bad guys. But he always ended roll call with these fitting words:

“Let’s be careful out there.”