During the motivational keynote, “The Human Side of Injury Prevention,” at the National Safety Council (NSC) Annual Conference and Expo in Anaheim, Calif., Phoenix Safety Management President Charlie Morecraft shared how his failure to take responsibility for his own safety and a reluctance to wear PPE contributed to his severe on-the-job injuries.
Charlie Morecraft worked for Exxon for 27 years, spending much of that time working in the field as an operator. Despite the dangerous nature of his work, accident prevention wasn’t exactly his first concern.
“I felt accidents don’t happen to me – accidents happen to the other guy,” he said. “I was never overly concerned with safety.”
That attitude changed when he was working the night shift and received a call to change a blank in a pipeline. It was messy, tiresome work, and a job Morecraft had done many times before. “I knew all the shortcuts to take,” he remembered.
The pipeline was filled with an octane enhancer, a chemical that leaked out while he worked. But this was typical, so Morecraft wasn’t concerned. But when he gave one final heave to pull the blank, a surge of the chemical hit him in the eyes. And Morecraft wasn’t wearing safety glasses.
“I never wore safety glasses,” Morecraft told the audience at NSC. He described safety glasses as hot, uncomfortable and, most of all, that he didn’t like how they looked. But without safety glasses that day on the job, he was left temporarily blinded, which delayed him in getting to the safety shower.
After Morecraft’s eyes cleared, he ran down the stairs and past his truck to reach the safety shower. That was when he noticed his truck was still running – another shortcut he often took on the job. By the time he noticed, it already was too late. The vapor from the chemical ignited on the truck fumes, and Morecraft was engulfed in flames. He jumped in a puddle to extinguish the fire, but the pain didn’t set in until he was traveling to the hospital. That was when he first noticed his arms were black and blistering.
“The pain is excruciating, there’s no way in hell to describe what that was like,” he said.
Thus began months and months of pain for Morecraft, first in a burn center, and later in a rehabilitation hospital. He endured 20 to 30 surgeries to reconstruct his face, and had to wear a head-to-toe Jobst suit – including a mask – for a full year after he left the hospital to prevent swelling and scarring.
Even so, he still bears heavy scarring on his forearms. As Morecraft rolled up his sleeves to show the audience the scarring, he explained that he was wearing FR clothing that day – clothing that saved his life. But, in typical fashion for his relaxed attitude about safety, Morecraft had the sleeves rolled up that day. A line is clearly visible on his arm, separating the part concealed by the FR clothing and the area left exposed by the rolled-up sleeves.
Today, Morecraft is all too aware of how his decisions on that routine workday affected the rest of his life. If he hadn’t taken shortcuts, the chemical may never have burst out of the pipe. If he had been wearing safety glasses, he might have made it to the safety shower in time. If he had turned off his truck, the explosion may not have occurred. And if he hadn’t rolled up his sleeves, he would have been more protected and perhaps have full mobility in his left arm today.
“FR clothing, which is safety equipment, saved my life,” Morecraft said. “Without it, I’d be dead. It’s totally up to you what to do with your safety equipment. Wear it or not; it’s your choice.”
He also warned against falling into the trap of thinking, “Thank God that will never happen to me.”
“What caused this accident was my attitude toward safety,” he said. “And if you have the same attitude toward safety that I had, these things will happen to you. If you fail to follow procedures, the same thing will happen to you.”
At work, management might develop procedures to work safely, but the workers are responsible for following those procedures, he explained. And the same applies to off-the-job safety, such as wearing a seatbelt in the car or a helmet when riding a bicycle or motorcycle. In the end, it’s up to people to protect themselves.
“We’ve got to start accepting responsibility for our own safety and stop looking for other people to keep us safe,” he said. “Everyone deserves a future. Please, don’t let it happen to you.”