Ok, so there’s a big chance I’ve just offended half of you. But its true. You can have the best laws possible, supported by the best awareness programs, comprehensive training programs, regular ‘Take 5’s’ and it still won’t be enough to protect some workers against their own stupidity. It all comes down to one thought. Not, “I didn’t understand the risk”. Not, “It will only take a minute”. Not, “I know my equipment inside out”. But that venerable classic… “It won’t happen to me!”
Take 100 frontline soldiers. Tell them they are about to go into a battle where only one in three will return in one piece. Every one of those soldiers will think of the person either side of him or her and say to themselves, “Poor bastards!”
In the last couple of weeks there have been at least two fatalities where hydraulic rams failed while a worker was underneath. The latest was simply reported as follows:
A worker was fixing the hydraulics on an excavator when the raised bucket fell and killed him.
Hullo? What about the devastating impact on his loved ones? What about the trauma delivered to his workmates? What about the unknown suffering of people needing an ambulance while at least one ambulance was tied up with this accident? What about the financial impact to our economy of this one, stupid, thoughtless, careless, ‘I’m bullet-proof’ accident?
Had this worker never been told not to stand under that bucket? Had he or she never been told that hydraulic systems are inherently dangerous? Had he or she never read of a single incident where a worker was maimed or killed while working on a vehicle? Of course he had – unless he’d just arrived on the last spaceship from Pluto.
Yes, we all have deadlines. We all want to ‘finish the job’ as quickly as possible. But a dead person is unlikely to ever finish the task at hand! Do supervisors ever encourage a worker to take an unnecessary risk? Of course they do! They have that same ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude. No, I am not suggesting that happened in either of these incidents (how pathetic that we talk of an incident when a family is now grieving) but we all know it does happen. “Come on, by the time the mechanics get here we can be finished. It will only take a couple of minutes to fix it enough for us to finish.”
Last week a young tree lopper died when a tree came down on top of him. Lack of training? Possibly. But does anyone really start lopping a tree without understanding that trees are both big and heavy while humans are small and light in comparison? Accidents do happen – I mean real accidents. I recall some years back a tree lopping contractor I used had a major incident. A young, new team member had his arm ripped off when a piece of fencing wire, that had grown into the tree, got hooked in his sleeve and pulled his arm into the mulcher. But I have to ask… did no-one explain to him that fencing wire will not mulch and that that piece of wood should never have been fed in to begin with? So yes, it was a devastating accident but was it preventable?
I still see people riding motor bikes and mowing lawns in thongs. Duh! I still see people using brushcutters without safety equipment. Duh! I still see young men working on sites with no sun protection. Duh! I still see people using their mobile phones – even texting, while driving. Duh!
The immutable facts are that almost all accidents are preventable. We are not ‘bullet proof’. We are mere mortals with responsibilities and obligations that should make us step back and say, “that is an unnecessary risk and I will not take it!”