Sandy Says: The Hazards of Writing about Workplace Hazards

June 18, 2012
Raise your hand if, when you drive past a construction site, you check to make sure the workers are wearing appropriate PPE and that workers at heights are wearing fall protection. Now raise your hand if you take safety at home for granted.

My guess is, most of you raised your hands to the first statement and some of you raised your hands for the second. If you’re like me, it’s become second nature to “audit” workplaces and worksites. I can’t help myself. However, I’m not as vigilant at home.

I can’t help myself: I check for PPE and fall protection on workers at construction sites; I check utility trenches for proper shoring; I watch window washers to make sure they’re wearing fall protection; and I remind delivery people to “lift with your legs, not your back.”

And yet, when it comes to safety in my home, I’m worthless. I have trip, slip and fall hazards everywhere: toys, shoes, piles of laundry, spilled water on the kitchen floor, garden hoses snaking through the yard… I have a ladder that – no kidding – has one leg slightly shorter than the others. (I should have known something was up when the price tag at the garage sale for a practically new ladder was $1.)

I remind readers that eye injuries probably are 99 percent avoidable, yet I don’t wear eye protection at least 50 percent of the time when cutting the grass or wacking weeds. I also don’t wear eye protection when cleaning the toilet or the oven, even though chemical burns often are devastating to eyes.

I recently bought a new couch and decided that I could maneuver the cool, beloved, destroyed (dog damaged, see photo!) vintage couch through the front door and down the front steps. I’d forgotten that vintage furniture often weighs twice as much as newer furniture. After spending 30 minutes doing my best to shove the thing through the doorway, I had to acknowledge defeat and seek help from the two burly men who had been watching my efforts (while seated on the new couch) with GREAT amusement. I tell people to be careful lifting a 30-pound box but I was doing my best to wrestle a 200-pound couch through a door.

I knew I had reached my supreme level of foolish complacency when a friend came over while I was burning the paint off porch spindles. I have 90 spindles to strip and my hope was to take them some place where huge vats of highly toxic chemicals would strip away 120 years’ of paint. Unfortunately, many of the chemicals and chemical processes that worked so well now are banned by EPA. The cost to strip one spindle was $25 at the only place in town that would take them.

So, I was forced to resort to burning off the paint with a blowtorch. It took a friend’s horror-stricken look at the sight of me with no mask or gloves and a blow torch in one hand and a spindle in the other to wake me up to the fact that the fumes were toxic.

That incident made me stop and think about all the other household chores – cleaning, lawn maintenance, painting, etc. – that require personal protective equipment such as gloves, safety glasses, hearing protection and respirators. I doubt I’m the only person who needs to remind themselves that the same hazards that can hurt us at work – slips and falls, chemicals, flying objects, sharp objects – can hurt us at home.

Check out our off-the-job safety features on pages 63 and 66 and please remember to do as I say, not as I do!

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