“Company man is going to be stopping by location today. I'll let you guys know around what time later when I find out. He's pretty particular, so make sure y’all have your PPE on when he's here.”
Your safety-sense should be tingling about now for several reasons. I'd like to talk for a moment about the importance of taking personal responsibility for using personal protective equipment (PPE) effectively.
Safety is something that most construction companies take very seriously. Engineering controls, administrative controls, daily toolbox talks, and hazard identification/correction programs are just a few of the ways accidents are prevented every day. Vigilant foresight and an emphasis on industry best practices have successfully eliminated many occupational hazards in the construction industry, but the last line of defense against potentially costly and debilitating accidents is PPE. Some companies provide the necessary PPE for the job, and most construction companies provide in depth training on proper PPE usage; but that is where their safety reach ends.
When it comes to properly donning the safety harness and securing it to the man basket at a suitable anchor point in order to safely proceed with the job – that is my responsibility. When it comes to putting on safety glasses before hammering on a piece of rusty, paint-chipped iron – that is my responsibility. Putting on the correct respirator to prevent inhaling epoxy paint fumes – my responsibility.
Consistency and proper use are key with PPE. Accidents aren't scheduled occurrences, therefore, wearing PPE on an inconsistent basis is not an effective approach toward maintaining safety. Using PPE in an appropriate manner is just as important as using it at all. Safety glasses won't protect someone's eyes if they are worn up on the forehead, and a safety harness won't break a fall if it's not tied off. Safety and PPE aren't a “dog and pony show.” It doesn't matter if the “important” person is going to be on location; safety is a frame of mind independent of “who's watching.”
With that being said, let me share two “near miss” experiences in which I am thankful that I was wearing PPE:
Situation 1: I was handling a heavy coil of 500 KCMIL copper Superslick Elite THHN, rolling it down a concrete warehouse floor to its destination. For those who aren't too familiar with wire, this stuff is heavy, slippery, and unforgiving: almost has a mind of its own. I was rolling the coil down the corridor, keeping close to it, carefully maintaining its balance to prevent the coil from toppling over. One end of the wire worked its way out of the tape that was holding the coil together, giving way to an approximately 3 foot loose end free to take on its own mentality. I didn't pay much attention to the loose end. The wire was going to get to where it needed to go and I could re-tape it there. I continued pushing the wire down the aisle, and gave it an extra push when I encountered an unexpected bump. In a flash, I was knocked backward onto the ground. I sat there stunned. What had just happened? I took off my safety glasses and inspected them. The right lens had suffered an attack leaving it scratched and cracked but had been successful in deflecting a blinding blow to my eye. I refer to this incident as the “Cobra Strike.” The loose end of the wire had planted itself on a crack in the concrete, building up spring pressure until it was rolled past the point that it no longer could stay in contact with the ground. At this moment, the free end had whipped around with such speed and ferocity that my reflexes were rendered useless. PPE was my last line of defense against the “Cobra Strike,” and I thank myself for having had my safety glasses on.
Situation 2: I was climbing up on a piece of equipment as part of the process for getting set up after arriving on location. In order to make it easier for others to access the equipment, I needed to drop down the solid metal ladders on either side of the equipment. It was my first time setting up this piece of equipment and the ladders were beginning to frustrate me. There were no bearings or wheels so that the ladder could smoothly slide down the intended tracks. Also, a safety latch had to be operated at the same time as the ladder was lowered. Perhaps it was a two-person task, I probably should have asked for help, should have sucked up my pride and told the supervisor that I didn't know how to accomplish this trivial task in a safe way. Instead, I decided to give it a go. I used one arm to lift the bottom of the ladder and the other to operate the safety latch. I expected to work against the weight of the ladder and slowly lower it to the ground, but the ladder didn't really budge. I jiggled the ladder with my right arm until it slipped a few inches down the tracks and came to a stop. At this point it was no longer necessary to operate the safety latch, so I took my other hand and placed it on the ladder, a few rungs up from the bottom, to help push. I pushed up on the ladder trying to get it unbound from the tracks but being careful to not re-engage the safety latch. The ladder was stuck. I began vigorously shaking the ladder in an attempt to free it. It wouldn't move. I continued to shake the ladder. It broke free, quickly slicing down the length of the tracks, crushing my left index finger in the process. As the ladder had come down, I had been unable to transition from shaking the ladder to supporting its weight quickly enough. I had realized that I needed to get out of the way but didn’t have time to react. My left finger was crushed between a rung of the ladder and the metal framing of the equipment in a guillotine like manner. I have no doubt in my mind that I would have lost my finger had I not been wearing impact gloves. The impact resistant rubber on the upper of the gloves took most of the force of the falling ladder and had provided me with a split-second to remove my finger from what would have been a devastating dismemberment. Once again, I am thankful I was wearing PPE.
I could go on reciting stories about how PPE has protected me in one way or another, but the point is: accidents and incidents are unexpected, and the last line of defense, the one thing that will turn that “accident” or “incident” into a “near miss,” is personal protective equipment. Additionally, never negotiate personal safety and always beware of companies that treat safety only as a spectacle.
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Stay safe my friends…