There Is No Exception to Safety — At Work or at Home

Disaster Preparation/RecoveryElectrical ProtectionSafety

by: Don McCarty
This article originally ran in the June 2011 issue of OSP Magazine

I  found that out first hand last week while helping my neighbor clean up a large oak tree that had been blown over by a recent storm. I’ll fill you in on the details in a bit.

I have been in the telephone business for more than 45 years and have preached safety in every training session that I do. Provisioning and maintaining the outside plant infrastructure is a very dangerous business and all involved must pay attention to every aspect of every job that we perform.

The telephone industry has always stressed safety from Day One. From the earliest days, the telephone company was safety-minded. Throughout the Bell System, this motto was displayed everywhere: [pullquote]“No job is so important and no service is so urgent that we cannot take time to perform our work safely.”[/pullquote]

First-Aid training, safe-driving practices, and safe work procedures were considered essential. They were incorporated into every job description and work practice. The telephone company bought us safety glasses, hard hats, rubber gloves, and insulation mats for working around distribution power.

We wore long sleeve shirts, gloves, and steel-toed boots in the hottest weather. Training on how to perform any specific task safely was driven into our minds. The safety process did not end with the end of the work day — this attitude was also stressed for our personal life.

In the old Bell System if there was an injury or death, details of the incident were passed throughout the Bell System the next day so that every person could learn from it. Each work group had a monthly safety meeting, and all managers were responsible for mandatory safety requirements for all employees. Safety books were on every truck, and each employee was required to read and understand all safety practices.

We tested everything from ladders, climbing hooks, ropes, vehicles, and so on, to make sure everything was in good working order. Poles were tested before climbing; the strand was tested before placing a ladder. Voltage testers were used to identify phase power on cables, strand, buildings, terminals, and interfaces.

These solid practices mitigated accidents and death. There are no exceptions. A safety violation is a moment of inattention and you cannot go back.

And now I will tell you the rest of the story.

Unfortunately, while we all admit that safety is important, we often get too casual in our approach. Last week, I glanced out the window while working at the computer and saw my neighbor and his friend in the process of removing the oak tree. I could see that they were taking the wrong approach and, given many years of felling trees, I thought I’d offer some advice, and help if needed.

I recommended that they start at the top, remove smaller branches and look for any “mouse traps” that could get them in trouble. My neighbor indicated that he was a novice and his friend would do the cutting.

I went back to my house, picked up my chain saw, safety glasses, hard hat, ear muffs, and gloves, and returned to the scene of the pending accident. After spending time cutting up small branches my neighbor’s friend ended up with his saw pinched.

Rather than doing a thorough examination of the situation and inspecting the area around his pinched saw I made a reverse cut which relieved the pressure on his saw blade. When I looked up I had two very large branches coming straight at me.

As I ducked to the right, one branch tore my safety glasses and ear mitts from my face, slamming into my left arm. The second log caught me by the leg and pinched me between that branch and the tree.

When they pulled me from the wreckage I was in excruciating pain. My left arm had already swollen to twice its normal size. My right leg hurt from my knee to my hip.

A trip to the emergency room and $1,400.00 later showed no broken bones. I spent several hours getting bandaged up and another tetanus shot. When I returned to the scene of the accident I was filled in by my neighbor and his friend.

His friend had no idea how I was still alive. He thought that the large branch was going to crush or impale me. I should have broken my left arm and my right leg. My only explanation is that God looks out for old drunks and little children.

It has been a week and I am looking at a purple and yellow arm from my wrist to my elbow. My left leg is in the same condition from my knee to my hip. My kidney has stopped hurting and my rib is sore, but not cracked or broken.

I have written this embarrassing article because it may remind someone who needs reminding that safety is a 24-hour job. As John Wayne once said, “Life is tough…It’s even tougher if you’re stupid.” Fortunately at my age I don’t have too much left to learn the hard way, and my wife reminds me that “you can’t fix stupid.”

Signing off
Sometimes it’s just not your time…this was one of them but it scared me and I want to remind you:never, ever take your safety for granted. Teach your workers, your children, and your friends how to be safe and more important, provide an example. If you have a safety story, please tell me and I’ll share it (anonymously if you prefer): or 831.818.3930.

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