Recently, I went through some training at Rutgers University to earn continuing education credits for my licenses. At the end of the session, one of the instructors shared a video that really stuck with me because of the grim reality it presented.
Maybe you’ve seen it… or one like it. It’s part of the It Can Wait (www.itcanwait.com) campaign to stop people from texting or otherwise using their phone while driving. Distracted driving, especially involving phones, causes far too many unnecessary deaths in this country.
This video got me thinking. It brought to my mind other ways that we put ourselves – and others – in danger in our daily lives, often inadvertently. It inspired me to go on a bit of a crusade, of sorts.
In my industry, like many others, there is a significant amount of training and continuing education we must go through for professional advancement, to maintain our credentials, and, of course, to stay safe while on the job.
Add to that all the safety precautions my team and I take as environmental consultants when we’re on a job site. Over the decades I’ve seen all the different policies and safety procedures that employers and employees must follow to promote safety in the workplace.
There may be some complaining about all these procedures and training, but for the most part, people are onboard with safety.
But then they head home at the end of the workday…
When Safety Goes Out the Window
The problem is that once people clock out at the workplace, often any thought of safety just goes out the window.
Consider a forklift driver. They’re required to wear a seatbelt. They must stay aware of their surroundings at all times. There are no distractions allowed. Because if they’re trying to get a pallet loaded with 500 pounds of raw material down from the top tier of a storage rack and deliver it across the facility, losing concentration could cause a costly accident, not to mention serious injury or loss of life.
Yet, that same forklift driver, who has been so diligent during his work shift, will be texting his buddies, wife, or kids while on his way home. He might even forget to put on his seatbelt (and he doesn’t notice because he disconnected the “annoying” warning signal in his car).
This inattention could be fatal. It’s an example of how we don’t take the safety procedures we learn on the job home with us… even when we definitely should.
I’m guilty of it myself, or at least I was earlier in my career.
I still remember one of my first projects as an environmental consultant was conducting a groundwater investigation for a major pharmaceutical firm. We were only allowed to work on-site during the weekends as a health and safety measure due to the contaminants of concern. While there, we were in full Level B hazmat suits – “moon suits,” complete with respirators and air tanks on our backs. Safety first, right?
At one point during the project I worked the whole weekend and had Monday off. My wife and I were just married and had moved into a new apartment. Feeling ambitious, we decided to take the day to paint the wooden floor in the bedroom.
I bought a VOC-based paint that wouldn’t peel away with people walking on it. The warning label said to make sure the area being painted was well-ventilated; the guy at the hardware store said the same thing. That was the extent of the warning… but I should have known better.
This stuff really stunk, and we both soon had bad headaches while painting.
I ended up taking the can of paint to work the next day, and out of curiosity I took one of our field instruments to measure the level of VOCs in the air after opening the can of paint. The reading pegged the meter. Not good. The level was even worse than the contaminated site we were working on. When we took readings there, it barely registered a reading on the meter. It was nowhere near the exposure from that paint in our apartment. I guess I should have taken my hazmat suit home to wear while painting.
As an environmental consultant, I should have known. But like many people, it seems that the safety-minded part of my brain turned off when I got off work.
Unexpected Dangers Outside the Workplace
You can see this imbalance in all sorts of situations. We’ll wear hearing protection at a manufacturing facility due to high decibel levels. But that weekend, we’ll be front and center at a rock concert right next to the speakers without earplugs or any other precautions. And we can’t hear the next day… and have probably caused permanent damage to our hearing.
Up north in wintertime, there’s another “danger zone.” When snow falls, all across my neighborhood, out come the snowblowers. They get jammed on pieces of ice. And people think nothing of reaching in to remove the ice without shutting down the equipment.
Just this past winter, we had a guy a few streets from me who had to be medevacked out because he tried to kick out a piece of ice stuck in his snowblower and it practically removed his foot. What do we learn on the job that would be handy here? Lock-out/tag-out.
There are similar situations when hurricanes hit and folks who’ve never handled a chainsaw decide to cut up the fallen trees and limbs in their yard with no training or safety precautions.
Just working around the house can be dangerous.
Sanding the floors, hammering concrete nails into the wall, building your kids a treehouse, mowing the lawn and having all sorts of material flying through the air… why not wear eye protection? If you were doing these tasks at work, you certainly would.
Even something as simple as learning CPR or the Heimlich maneuver if your employer offers it should be on your mind. You might think it’s a pain in the butt to do more training. But what if a loved one needs that help… and you didn’t have that training?
One last story…
A couple of years ago, my crew and I were out on the west coast doing a compliance audit of a facility. The head of EH&S for this company escorted us around. We had to wear high visibility traffic vests, hard hats, hearing protection, eye protection, and steel toed boots while at the facility.
He was adamant about staying within the demarcated walkways throughout the facility. As he told us, there were forklifts buzzing all over the place, and they wouldn’t see you if you strayed from the designated pathways. Every time we crossed an aisle, he would make us stop and look both ways…
Which was why it was quite surprising what happened on our last night in town. This director invited us out to dinner. We arrived at the restaurant early and were waiting for him out front by the entrance. Wesaw him walking down on the opposite side of the street. He saw us too, waved, and then stepped out into the road without looking and… almost got hit by a passing car.
He was safe all day from forklifts, but he could have been seriously injured or worse by a car when going to dinner.
The bottom-line is there is all this valuable, available knowledge handed to us by employers and regulators about environmental, health and safety. We all go through a tremendous amount of training. We learn how to keep ourselves and others safe at facilities and jobs sites. Let’s carry that spirit – and those safety precautions and our training– home.
I’m happy to discuss this issue with you further, as well as any other environmental, health and safety questions, you might have. Contact me, Mark Roman, at 609-208-1885 or via email at email@example.com.