Safety “Aha” Moments

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CBS recently aired a new show, “Undercover Boss,” just after the Super Bowl. The first episode featured Waste Management President Larry O’Donnell. At the very beginning, Mr. O’Donnell shared a story about how his daughter was permanently injured from a medical error when she was an infant and that event drove home the importance of safety to him. “As a result of what happened to her, I never want to work at a company that I’m responsible for, where people don’t know how to follow the proper procedures.” Many people who have a true dedication to safety have had moments in their life that really hit the safety mark and opened their eyes to the importance of safety. Let’s call these “aha” moments.

My personal journey to safety has been long, bumpy, and slightly painful. I never intended to get into safety. From a young age I worked in industries that lent themselves to injury, and as you can see from my stories in the comment section below, I have had some very close calls. Each of these events resulted in an important safety lesson. People will argue that if we find ourselves in jobs that are unsafe, we should quit. However for one reason or another many of us may not have that option. Even when jobs were plentiful, finding a new job was not always easy. Most of us suck it up and do our job and hope and pray that everything will go well. Usually it does, and even for those of us in safety, we trip up from time to time.

I have experienced enough “aha” moments in my life that I want to do my best to make sure others don’t have to experience them. I hope you don’t wait for an “aha” moment at your company to get serious about safety because by then, it may be too late. The “aha” moment your employees experience may not be so gentle and could end with serious consequences. Let my experiences be lessons for all of us. Get focused and start mitigating all those situations that could result in providing the wrong lesson in your company.

Below are a few of my “aha” moments. Please share your “aha” moments as well. Perhaps we can all learn from each other.

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4 Comments on "Safety “Aha” Moments"

  1. I started working on a farm and in the construction business while attending high school. While constructing one of those storage rental facilities you see in many communities, I fell through the roof to the concrete 18-feet below. I wasn’t injured, but to add insult to (non) injury, I had to go back up and replace the 2×4 that broke. We had only been on the job site about 10 minutes. I was doing something I had done a 100 times before. I was not in an unsafe position, though I did not have a tether system on. To this day I’m leery of walking on roofs under construction.

  2. While working on the farm, I was tasked with placing a bunch of jugs that we used for cider in the loft. This involved a person on a fork lift raising material up to me, and me on an extension ladder moving on and off the loft to unload them. As I came to the top of the extension ladder, I felt something give. The whole ladder slid out from under me. I wasn’t high enough to step onto the loft and fell 15 feet to the floor and landed on top of a 5-gallon bucket. The whole act was in slow motion. To this day I don’t know what caused it. I had the feet placed properly and I had been up and down the ladder a few times. This “aha” moment resulted in a trip to urgent care for an x-ray of my arm to determine if it was broken. It wasn’t, but man did it hurt.

  3. While attending Purdue, I drove a garbage truck to help pay my bills. This was your typical front-load garbage truck that weighed 64,000 lbs when full and required a Class B CDL. We were a small company that was trying to carve a niche into a market dominated by larger companies. This often meant we did things on a shoestring. One day the brakes on the truck failed as I went through a red light doing my best to steer to the side to avoid other vehicles. I’d had a wheel bearing failure that caused the entire wheel to catch on fire. I did my best to operate the truck safely despite the potential safety issues thrown at me.

  4. Recently I was repairing my mom’s furnace. One of the breakers in the unit had gone bad and needed to be replaced. Our neighborhood HVAC guy tested the unit, informed us of what was wrong, told us how to fix it, and where to get the part. Being the dutiful son, I got the breaker and set about replacing it. To take a few steps back, when the HVAC guy removed the breaker from the furnace he informed me that he had flipped the main breaker in the panel. Being safety conscious and worried about younger siblings, I checked the breaker at the box to verify it was off and then tested the exposed wires with a meter to be sure we had the right breaker off before leaving the house to get the replacement. When I returned I proceeded to replace the breaker. I paused for a moment and thought, “I should make sure that breaker is still off.” But then I thought, “why would anyone turn it back on, it was off when I left it and it should still be off now.” I started wiring the breaker into place and brushed my hand against two wires and BAM! I got it with a sledgehammer. The 220 power was back on. Quite a few expletives later I checked the breaker and it was on! Turns out that while I was gone, one of the electric heaters my family had plugged in (it was 20-degrees outside) had tripped a breaker. My younger brother went to the panel and just turned on all the breakers, not just the one that was tripped. This just goes to show you that even those of us that work in safety on a daily basis can slip up. I can guarantee you that this “aha” moment is seared into my brain, and I will always double check breakers (if only they built lock out/tag out into homes)!

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