Sandy Says: Making Dumb Mistakes

June 1, 2011
An off-the-job safety experience, requiring a trip to the emergency room and six stitches, reminds me that complacency is the fastest route to injury.

I rescue dogs. At any given time, I have my dogs and a spare at my house and usually, everything goes very smoothly. And that's the problem.

I became complacent. My dogs are well-trained, if a little overenthusiastic at times, and I work with my foster dogs to ensure they are well-behaved.

One of my dogs, Meatball, is approaching his second birthday. He's a wonderful dog, happy-go-lucky and friendly to people and dogs alike, but for a male dog, ages 2 to 4 can be a challenge. It usually is during that time that they are figuring out if they're alpha or not, and that can be challenging for other dogs in the house, especially the dog that thinks he or she is the alpha

Yesterday, Meatball and the current wanna-be alpha, Hector, got into a scuffle by the backdoor. A friend had come over and they were vying for her attention. Since I consider myself a dog-knowledgeable person, I knew I could handle it. I bumped them apart with my hip and reached down to grab Meatball's collar. All Hector saw was something (my hand) flashing by his face, so he latched on and bit down … hard … on my wrist.

I started to yell, my neighbors heard the commotion, and one of them climbed over the fence holding a machete because, he told me later, “If it was you or the dog, the dog was gonna die.” (Fortunately, neither Hector nor I lost our lives.)

As I sat bleeding in the emergency room, I realized how stupid I'd been. Two strong male dogs, in high spirits because of warm weather and a visitor, and I reached into the middle of it. I know better than that.

And by doing it, and then yelling when I was bitten, I escalated the situation. My injury aside, I made the situation 10 times worse than it needed to be because I thought I knew so much and was so smart and had everything under control.


The practice of safety, I think, can become a little like my dog experience. Things go smoothly for months or even years, injury rates are down, incident rates are down, communication between management and employees is open and honest, employee morale is good … And all it takes is one second of inattention — either on the part of management or an employee — for someone to be headed to an emergency room or worse.

People in recovery talk about “working the program.” They think about their recovery and disease every day and make a conscious decision to stay sober, to stay safe. If they stop working the program, they often lapse back into bad and dangerous habits.

When I first started fostering dogs, I was vigilant. The dogs were never out of my sight and I defused any situations before they became an issue. Scuffling at the door never would have been allowed. The last year or so, I've gotten lazy and complacent, allowing behavior I never would have allowed when I actively was working my (dog safety) program.

Do your employees work the safety process/program every day? Are they reminded every day why they need to be vigilant and careful? Is management reminded that PPE needs attention and that machines and workstations need maintenance? Are ways to work more safely constantly being considered?

Safety is like any program. If we become complacent and stop working at it, we increase our risk of falling back into bad habits. Not only are bad habits hard to break, they can be painful. Take it from me.

Every time I look at the inch-long scar I'm sure to have on my wrist, I'll remind myself that I was lucky it wasn't much, much worse. Depending on luck to keep me safe was a stupid mistake.

Send an e-mail with your thoughts to [email protected].

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