Safety In the Workshop.. Yeah... I made... a mistake.

    Anything that can go wrong...

    It is easy to generalize with Murphy's Law. Anything can in fact, go wrong, and given enough opportunity, low rates of risk become an increasing possibility. Spend a lot of time around tools, and eventually, the odds of something going wrong from a safety point of view starts looking more like a probability. While I'm sure walking into a workshop containing many things with spinning blades, electrical hazards, poisonous chemicals, respiratory risks, flying debris, noise-related injury, trip hazards, etc, etc may sound dangerous, there are many things you can do to make things a lot safer. It's often better to learn from others than from experience, so let me tell you my tale of how I stuffed up.

    How this wayward Ham managed to delay all workshop projects by sustaining injury.

    Ok, so I wear decent work boots with better grip than my car's tyres, dust masks, safety goggles, ear protection, gloves where necessary, full-body welding gear when appropriate, even knee pads when working low on the ground. So when I tell you I managed to break my left arm and embed a 32mm screw in my right wrist while in the shop doing one very simple task, the likely scenario where those two events become possible.... might not be as obvious as you might think. Can you guess it? I wasn't even holding a screwdriver, or a hammer, or any whacking device.. or screws at the time. Yet, I found myself on the ground, bleeding, with a somewhat unresponsive left arm, screw sticking into right wrist, and in a small amount of shock.

    I was fortunate, I have a caring partner, and was working with a professional electrician to make my workshop/garage area safer. The only problem was, that neither were on site. The partner had gone out to do some shopping, and the electrician... out to lunch. I was alone, and having done two decades of first aid, I knew I required medical aid... more than my first-aid skills would allow. With two injured arms, I can say with experience, that picking yourself up is a challenge.

    If you haven't guessed it yet, I fell off a short step ladder while putting cable through conduit to make the electricians life a little easier.... I literally landed on a box of 32mm screws, one going into my wrist. Now, I was welding the day before, and I engage in activities with far more potential for injury, and I merely misjudged where the second step (of 3, roughly 50cm off the ground) was going to be when dismounting the ladder, preparing to move to the next junction. ...and Ham goes for his most graceless swan-dive onto a concrete surface while getting screwed (literally).. his failure to do so without making a splash of screws going everywhere is going to cost him... a trip to the hospital.

    I now have had 6 weeks of "do nothing to jostle or upset the chips of bone in your shoulder socket.... or else your arm won't heal, you'll need surgery, and your arm's function may be significantly reduced for the rest of your life ". So now I'm limited to learning about woodworking from YouTube, books, and online courses.

    So you might be wondering, "What's your point?"

    Dear reader, my point is that while I prepare for the obvious potential dangers, it's often going to be the stuff you overlook that will mess you up. Slipping on a surface, tripping on a step, or falling off a step ladder that's so short, it got completely underestimated. It might be that you've cut the wrong electrical circuit, and the one you're working on wasn't labelled correctly. Stuff like this happens more often than you think.

    I was honestly surprised when I got a rather cheeky question by a friend who knows little of safety in general. I was asked: "So why bother protecting yourself, if it's the stuff you don't expect that will harm you?

    Because the stuff that could have harmed me, yet didn't due to the protective steps I took, far outnumber those I didn't prepare for. It's simply making the odds of disaster as low as possible with minimal inconvenience. Let's be honest, donning safety goggles, hearing protection, and a dust mask is way less painful than injuries to eyes, ruptured ear drums, and choking on sawdust, all of which can lead to chronic pain and even long-term health issues. Who wants that?

    Darth Vader safety gear combo (eye, ear, and dust protection)

    So what have I learned from this experience?

    Lesson 1: Get your work space organized, de-cluttered, and usable:

    If I can tell you just one thing, this would be it. Now I know you might have limited space, and that your partner might have (rightfully) numerous moving boxes worth of stuff taking precious space in the work area. However, having enough room to move from one side of the garage to another safely, putting things away so you can't land on, trip on, or be squashed by is key. I'm a firm believer that nothing should ever be stored on the floor. Put it on shelves, inside tool trolleys, cupboards, in drawers, I don't care, but putting things on the floor and trying to access stuff behind them is a major pain in the neck, it sucks the fun out of making stuff, and just makes everything more tedious and dangerous.

    Lesson 2: When working on a project, get yourself organized:

    If I had heeded this advice, I wouldn't have been going up and down the ladder so much, I would have spent a few minutes gathering everything, then finishing everything I needed to do at one location before moving on to the next. Instead, I didn't think about it, and was wasting time moving back and forth. If I had everything ready to go, all the tools I needed, and the means to carry them safely while using ladders, I probably wouldn't have fallen off.

    Lesson 3: Working harder, is not the same as doing the best job:

    Now this may sound obvious, but I think many people I know have fallen into this trap at some point in their lives. I get it (trust me, I have no right to judge), but trying to do more, rather than trying to things properly is often a dangerous approach. Taking breaks, stepping back, and actually thinking about the how as well as the what, you're trying to do, leads to better and safer outcomes all around. I was trying to do as much as I could, and yes, I got a lot done... until it all came to a grinding halt when I hit the concrete... then I got far less done.

    So what has been the cost of my momentary lapse in judgement? For comparison's sake to "not being injured":

    • Weeks of being unable to drive. This has meant that my partner has had to take days off from work to help me to get to my medical appointments. So one week less of fun holiday time! I also had to spend quite a bit in additional public transport costs.
    • Medical costs... I don't even want to know how much I've spent.
    • Inability to complete anything but the simplest tasks. I'm now nearly two months behind on my DIY tasks.
    • Being unable to drive in Canberra winter means that my car battery completely died and would not recharge. Car charger to try and recharge: $160, new battery when that failed: $165. The disappointment when I couldn't make it to my appointment and delays in treatment because my car wouldn't start... I won't state that it's priceless, but it certainly has a cost, I'm sure.
    • Significant sleep deprivation due to pain, making everything in life just that little bit harder to enjoy.
    • Less than stellar answers in job interviews. Ok so I hadn't slept, I was not great at putting my best foot forward, I was so brutally honest, that I hurt my chances, (diplomacy was a factor in the job criteria). Apparently honestly advising the interview panel to solve the cause of a problem, rather than a symptom, and pointing out that a temporary stop-gap measure was costing the business more money than simply fixing the problem isn't a great idea. In my defence, I was distracted by both the pain and the medications.. though I am pleased to report that I still made it to the final shortlist on over half of my interviews. Nonetheless, I'd like to think that I might have been earning at least some money in the last couple of weeks if I'd gotten at least one of the jobs I'd applied for. :-\
    • Contracting a cold from being stuck in hospital for long periods of time. Sick people in a hospital, who'd have thought it, right?
    • Being unable to contribute my fair share of work to the usual household chores, makes me feel bad, and has tempted me more than once to push myself too far.

    In short, cutting corners on safety, in business and elsewhere, by not doing the things you already know you should, can not only impact you, but those around you. I believe everyone has a duty to protect themselves and others. So while it is impossible to remove risks entirely, if I can gently remind you to consider safety in your activities, and help just one of you to avoid the inconvenience, pain, and costs of an injury, then I've made some good come out of my mistake.

    Take care, be safe, and have fun!

    Ham


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