One of my many duties at my “day job” is serving as point man for our workplace safety program.
Since I have a hair-trigger for gabbing about bloodborne pathogens, bodily fluids, corrosives, and other appetizing subjects, we no longer have a Christmas party or even a holiday party. No, it’s a “Watch out – there may be a pop quiz on lock-out/tag-out procedures for mistletoe!” party.
Given my history, I am lucky to be around to fill this position, instead of a pine box. During college I worked in a factory for three summers. I carelessly let my sneakered foot slide into a warm mineral spirits bath. Even with repeated rinsing, I wound up with skin that was as pruney as the menu at a MACC (Mothers Against Constant Constipation) convention.
On another occasion, at the same factory, I was daydreaming and nearly lost my hand to a roller mill that I had previously seen convert a nickel to a pancake-sized blob. (Perhaps it’s a false memory, but I could swear I heard Aunt Jemima shout, “Mrs. Butterworth can have that one!”)
Years later, at another job, I got the bright idea of climbing atop the cage of a forklift to change an outdoor sign. I accidentally kicked the gear shift on my way up and initiated a slow-speed roll that would have made O.J. proud.
To my credit, years earlier, I had averted a forklift disaster. A co-worker was operating a forklift indoors when a mouse dropped from a ledge onto the steering wheel. The driver surrendered the vehicle (also waving a white flag and throwing in the Eiffel Tower, as I recall), leaving it about to plummet off the loading dock, until I could stomp on the brake at the last second.
I have known other people for whom “Safety First” was not a guiding principle.
One fellow was discovered sitting on a tree limb, preparing to trim the limb. A kindly soul convinced him that perhaps sawing between the trunk and himself was not the best strategy.
Then there was the time my father and another guy were delivering a refrigerator. My father slipped on a wet spot on the steps and the major appliance landed on him. His “assistant” panicked and climbed on top of the fridge, adding his own 250 pounds. (“GE: we bring good things to life…assuming, that is, we don’t, you know, kill you first.”)
Every household and workplace needs a well-planned safety strategy. It’s just human nature that shortcuts, laziness, and an attitude of “it can’t happen to me” lead to accidents-waiting-to-happen.
Sometimes sentimentality plays a part. (“I know we probably ought to replace the wiring in the break room, but it’s still attached to Ben Franklin’s kite. Are you a commie or something, man?”)
I have a knack for sensing when a co-worker truly needs extra attention. You know to watch out when someone has a nickname like “Lefty” or “Stubby.” Try building up the nerve to straighten out someone nicknamed “Sort of push it around with your forehead.”
Occasionally, I have visitors to my safety lectures. For instance, my lesson about preventing slips, trips, falls, and lack of traction was attended by… The American Economy.
I will neither confirm nor deny that a comment at the meeting was “I WISH we could get a mouse ahold of the steering wheel!”