Archive for April, 2011
April 28, 2011
A worker on a steep roof slipped and shot himself in the leg with a nail-gun. My friend Darcy Olsen told me about this incident, answering my ongoing request for stories about workplace danger.
It was a hot, humid day in Ottawa in 2005. Darcy and his crew of eight were putting shingles on a multi-phase townhouse re-roof project. Certified in Level 3 Occupational First Aid, Darcy was a skilled tradesman in charge of site safety and emergencies.
“I had gone over the safety issues of using toe-boards on the steep sections with everyone,” Darcy wrote, via Facebook message. “I was on a northern section of roof after setting everyone to their tasks. We had an exuberant young apprentice shingler working another section.”
Toe-boards are part of a roofer’s fall protection system. They are long boards – usually 2×6 or 2×8 – installed along the roof edge.
“My lead hand came over and called me to the scene. Young Ben had decided that he didn’t need any toe-boards on his steep section and was working with only his fall-harness,” Darcy wrote. “But, due to the heat, which makes shingles very soft, he slipped in his harness.
“He was using an air-powered roofing coil nailer with 1.25-inch coil nails in it. He had been keeping his finger on the trigger as he moved about – a habit I had previously reprimanded him for. A softened shingle had torn loose under his body weight and, as he slipped, he shot himself just above the left knee with his air nailer – lodging it firmly into the bone.
“By the time I got to where he was, he was in a semblance of shock, but members of the crew had managed to get him to the 4/12 section of roof. I immediately called 911 for a steep-roof rescue and the fire department came to aid. I stayed with him until the fire department showed up with a telescoping basket to remove him.
“He spent three days in the hospital, and the the time loss for him was only a few weeks. It could’ve been a lot worse if he had shot himself a few inches lower in the kneecap.
“It was a serious safety lesson for the entire crew,” Darcy wrote.
WorkSafeBC’s nail-gun safety series
Darcy’s story made me think of these (fairly gory!) videos on nail-guns and other potentially dangerous power tools: You’re a Pro: Power Tool Series
April 26, 2011
Greg Shoesmith was only 22 when he died at work, operating a logging skidder near Barriere, BC.
His story is featured in a new book called Forget Me Not – Canadian Stories of Workplace Tragedy from the Families’ Perspective.
As Greg drove his empty skidder along a ridge, he hit a strip of shale with his skidder’s right track. The skidder began to slide.
“Immediately below the ridge was a 1.8 metre embankment. Momentum sent the skidder over the embankment. It rolled over onto its roof, back on its track, and onto its roof again before finally righting itself,” reads the family’s story, written by Scott Williams.
Book sales to raise money for families
I heard about this unique book: Forget Me Not – published by Threads of Life – from Leslie Heatherington, who offered me a chance to read “Losing Greg” – one of 21 stories in the book – in advance of the book’s official launch on April 28 on the Day of Mourning to remember workers who have lost their lives.
A goal of Forget Me Not is to be a wake-up call to create safer workplaces for all, including the most vulnerable. It includes stories from the families of people who died while working in mining, industrial, construction, electrical, auto shop, elevator, rail, fisheries, recreational, forestry, transportation, maintenance, agricultural, carpentry, iron working, municipal, and groundskeeping.
Would you like a free copy of Forget Me Not?
Leslie also offered me two copies of the book: one to keep and one to give away. If you would like to have a free copy of this book, please comment below or tweet a link to this post on Twitter using the hashtag #forgetmenotbk
All names will be entered into a random draw on April 28, 2011 at noon.
April 21, 2011
I stopped by the trade show at the 2011 Western Safety Conference in Vancouver on April 19 and enjoyed many interesting conversations.
For example, I’ve been invited to be strapped onto a rescue board and lifted up in a mock confined space rescue – which I am seriously considering. Stay tuned for lots of stories as I follow up with folks in the weeks to come.
One unique thing I brought home is a Brief Relief Urinal Bag – designed for workers who don’t have access to toilets. I got one from Colin Kryski, president of Potti Corp, based in Calgary.
Colin told me these “portable lavatory” bags are used by truckers, utility workers, military personnel, and other folks who need a hygienic solution when nature calls but there’s nowhere to go.
When I got home, I checked out the Brief Relief website, where I found an impressive client list that includes BC Hydro, Telus, City of Vancouver, and the RCMP.
The bags are funnel-shaped and can be used by women and men. They have a “one-way valve to prevent accidental spills” and the pee turns into a “deodorized gel” when it mixes with the “proprietary blend of naturally bioactive polymers and enzymes” in each bag – “safe for disposal in any trash receptacle.”
They also have Disposa-John Kits that holds liquid and solid waste. Enough said.
“Holding it in” can be hazardous to your health
Colin mentioned some of these hazards that are described on the Brief Relief website: “Holding it or delayed voiding, in medical terms, can cause your body serious harm including urinary tract infections, bladder disease and kidney stones.”
Aside from these potential health effects, it’s also pretty distracting when you’ve realllllly gotta go – and the Brief Relief website points out associated safety risks such as: “Increased probability of vehicular accidents… [and] Increased time engaging in behaviors with a high likelihood of injury such as lifting, lowering, and bending.”
I’ve never thought about this safety issue before – nor about the hygiene risks faced by workers who come up with unsanitary solutions to the “no toilet” problem. My awareness is raised, and I’m sure my son will enjoy trying the sample during our next long car trip!
April 19, 2011
My friend Dave Dawson worked as a line cook at a busy Ottawa restaurant in the late 80s. He and his coworkers ran the kitchen with little to no supervision.
One night a cook asked Dave to do something that seemed pretty sketchy.
“I was told to re-fill a deep fryer that was on,” said Dave. “Usually you’re supposed to use buckets of liquid oil because it gets hot so fast and it goes right in and heats evenly, but they said ‘open that box of lard up and put it in the deep fryer’ so I did.”
At that time, he was a young worker – under 25 – eager to please and not comfortable asking questions. Despite his better judgment, he plopped the 15-pound cube of lard into the deep fryer.
“The piece of lard got stuck at the top and it started to smoke at the sides. We really had to hack at it to make sure it didn’t go all over the place.”
The lard was similar in size to “a small television” and hacking at it didn’t help much. The smoke got thicker, so they tried another approach.
“We got very large pots for cooking sauces – that could hold probably six litres of liquid – and we scooped some of the hot oil out of the other deep fryers and poured it over the huge chunk of lard to try to melt it down.”
Thankfully no one was hurt. People need safety training and orientation in a kitchen, but this didn’t happen at Dave’s old workplace.
“In the kitchen, it would often happen at night that new people would show up. There was no sort of mentor,” said Dave. “There was no supervisor. We had a general manager, who had to manage the waiters and waitresses too, so he was not present very often.”
Hot oil can cause seriou burns and spilled oil cause horrible slipping accidents like this “shockvertising” from the WSIB.
Safety for new and young workers in restaurant kitchens
StartSafe Kitchen Safety – Tip #4: Using deep fat fryers safely, from WorkSafeBC
Health and safety issues for cooks, from OHS Answers by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Restaurant Safety For Teen Workers, from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), US Dept. of Labor
Stop slips in kitchens, from Britain’s Health and Safety Executive
Virtual Kitchen, from SafeWork South Australia
April 14, 2011
The image kept replaying in his mind.
My friend Reid accidentally chopped off his pinky finger with a table saw when he was cutting window trim at work.
“For a couple of weeks – particularly when I was going to sleep – I would, in a flash, have a re-run go through my mind of the instant it happened,” he said. “I kept remembering it really vividly, in a particularly visual way. It was no fun.”
Reid describes how the injury happened.
“The wood binded, shot out of the saw, hit my arm, and flew across the room. I felt a hot sensation in my hand that was holding the wood,” he said. “At first I didn’t want to look, but then I looked down and saw that there was just a little, tiny thread of skin keeping the last link of my pinky finger on. Then I started freaking out.”
Reid said he was sweating and yelling the f-word while his coworkers wrapped up his finger and called an ambulance. Luckily his finger was saved and reattached.
He said his flashbacks were a symptom of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) – described on the HeretoHelp website: “Often after a traumatic event like a car accident or being a victim of crime, people continue to relive the experience through flashbacks…”
Going back to the saw
Eventually he did use a table saw again – despite feeling “very anxious” about it.
“I did go back to working with table saws again,” Reid said. “I was very careful and aware and very anxious when working with them.”
I asked what, if anything, he was doing differently at work after the injury.
“The one thing I do differently is take off my gloves,” Reid said. “I was wearing knit, rubberized palm gloves – and that’s a big no-no. It could have otherwise just been a nick but because it was all knit, whatever loop of yarn the tooth caught also sucked my finger in.”
Thanks to Reid for sharing this story. It’s a good reminder of the stress and mental suffering that comes with injury. Not good.
Resources on safe use of table saws
Table Saw Safety, from Thompson River University. (Note: Tip #3: “Do not wear gloves while operating a table saw.”)
OSH Answers: Table Saws, from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
SAFE Work Tips for Working with a Table Saw, from the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba.
April 12, 2011
A video clip from WorkSafeBC got me thinking about my own experiences travelling on BC’s logging roads.
Once I went camping with some friends outside Bella Coola, in a beautiful spot, up a logging road – also known as a “resource road,” used by industry. The mountains, water, forest, and fresh air were amazing, but when a fully loaded logging truck thundered by, I got pretty worried.
My companions, who were from the area, insisted it was safe. We had already braved the narrow switchback roads through the Chilcotin Mountains driving from Vancouver to Bella Coola in my Ford pickup. One of my friends took over the driving after Williams Lake – all downhill, through the peaks, into the valley that led to their town. When he pretended to lose control of the brakes, my heart skipped a few beats. Read more
April 07, 2011
It’s one of the most common reminders we’ve heard since childhood – and how we’re reminded it’s the best way to prevent the spread of disease: “Wash your hands!” Ontario’s Brant Community Healthcare System gives new life to this age-old message with this amusing music video. (The music part starts 1 min, 16 seconds in.)
April 05, 2011
A construction employer once told me about an attitude he sees on worksites.
“People really don’t pay attention to how dangerous the industry is,” he said. “I see it all the time. It’s a leftover cultural thing where, to some degree, there’s almost a pride in avoiding some of the basic safety standards that are out there. For example, not wearing fall protection when you’re up on a roof, or not wearing eye protection and being careless around power tools.”
I emailed my good friend John Crombie to see if he agreed. John worked as a construction labourer for many years before taking the Construction Safety Officer program at BCIT and eventually moving into the building maintenance/tenant management business. He said he’d seen and done many of the same things himself in the past.
“I don’t think it is macho, or a matter of pride, exactly. I always wanted to hurry up and cut corners,” John said. “It really took me a while, and the threat of serious punishment, to realize that I was working unsafely and there was no reason, outside my own head and heart, for doing so. At some point I realized that I was the one who put the rules aside. Part of it is speed and convenience… For too long, following safety requirements seemed like an added burden. We had to put up with low pay, hard work, bad weather, overtime, and now – MORE safety rules!”
But John said his perspective changed over time, especially once he was a CSO.
“At some point, especially when I became responsible for the safety supervision of other workers, and responsible for how well they followed the rules, I realized that adherence to safety was all part of doing our best,” John said. “Doing our best became: safely, completely, and on time. Getting paid more also helped, as in working safely is also working more skillfully, and if this is rewarded with better pay – reflecting a higher level of training and output – then it all works better.”
Thanks to John for sharing his story and always being there for my questions. For more information on residential construction safety, check out the cover story by Helena Bryan in the March/April 2011 issue of WorkSafe Magazine.
More info is also available from the BC Construction Safety Alliance – a non-profit association that develops health and safety programs, tools and resources for more than 35,000 construction employers and 180,000 workers in our province.