The Corner Cubicle: When Off-the-Job Safety Hits Too Close to Home (Almost)

It's easy to think that safety rules don't apply to you at home. But as EHS professionals know, even the most mundane off-the-job project can result in a not-so-happy ending.

Do any of the TV or online news outlets in your area try to lure you in by highlighting their relentlessly hyperlocal coverage? That seems to be all the rage. When you have weather forecasters predicting the storm's path all the way down to the street level ("the tornado is about to hit Bill's house …"), this hyperlocal thing probably should come as no surprise, though. 

Here's my issue with hyperlocal news coverage: I'm not sure that I want to know what's really going on in my neighborhood, and I certainly don't want to give people a window into whatever it is that I do in my free time. 

I'm mostly kidding about that. Still, when it comes to safety, I have to admit that my off-the-job life might not fare well under the lens of scrutiny.

As I write this, I'm in the midst of a painting project at home. I'm getting ready to apply the second coat to the walls and trim of our upstairs bedroom, and after two weeks of taping and painting, I'm beginning to see the finish line. The room looks great. 

I'm eager to wrap this thing up, which should be a red flag for me. I tend to get impatient during long-term projects – and that's when mistakes and accidents often happen.

But here's what I'm really trying to confess: 

Josh Cable, author of numerous articles on the importance of off-the-job safety, is using an old, rickety, unstable ladder to paint the upstairs bedroom in his Cleveland home. 

Multiple sources also tell us that he has been seen perched on the second-highest rung – in bare feet, mind you – with a paint brush in one hand and the pant tray in the other. 

There also have been reports of alcohol consumption during the painting process.

I'm trying tell this story with a little humor because, for one thing, I'm fine. I haven't hurt myself (yet), in spite of my carelessness. 

But as any EHS professional can attest, the scenario that I just described could result in a not-so-happy ending. All it takes is one misstep or overreach, and the next thing you know, I'm in a sling or on crutches – and missing a lot of work. 

Or worse.

The painting process has had me thinking a lot about off-the-job safety, and what a monumental task it is to protect people on the job, let alone at home. 

As you know, safety is about more than policies and procedures. It's about changing behaviors, minds and hearts. And even when you've accomplished that formidable task, you still might have a guy like me lurking in your workplace – someone who knows better but still occasionally makes bad decisions.

In my defense, I make a lot of good decisions. I religiously wear my earplugs when I'm mowing the lawn or using the weedwhacker. I follow the best practices that I learned from defensive-driver training years ago (for a sales job). And when I was sanding the walls in preparation for the aforementioned painting project, I dutifully wore my N95 dust mask. 

So why was I so careless about the ladder? Sometimes I think Frank Zappa was right when he said, "We are dumb all over." Thanks to what I've learned from all of you, however, I know that I need to start taking some responsibility for my personal safety.

Perhaps the best way for me to start the next phase of my painting project is to reflect on some of the philosophies and credos of the 2013 America's Safest Companies:

  • "There is no such thing as work and safety. There is only working safely." – Alberici Constructors Inc.

  • "Protect yourself. Protect your co-worker. Then, and only then, can you take care of business." – Valdes Engineering Co.

  • "There is no production without safety." – Honda of South Carolina Mfg. Inc. 

This year's America's Safest Companies prove that safety and productivity are inextricably linked – you can't have one without the other. 

With all of that in mind, I'm off to Home Depot to look for a new ladder.

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