The Break Room: Oh Yeah ... I'm on a Roof

June 4, 2013
A lack of safety awareness could cause you to do something really dumb – like walk right off the edge of a roof.

Years ago, before I joined EHS Today or had any involvement in the occupational safety world, I worked in another organization's communications department. My duties included documenting, through articles and photographs, the construction of a new building next to our headquarters. With limited equipment and ability (let's face it, that college photography course did not make me a skilled professional), I had a difficult time taking decent pictures of the building – or at least until I discovered the roof.

By taking the staircase located near my top-floor office, I could pop onto the roof and have a much better view of the construction next door. While it was a little thrilling to walk around so high up, my biggest fear was that someone would lock the roof door without knowing I was up there and trap me outside.

Time passed, the construction project carried on, and I continued taking photos. Everything went swimmingly until the day I got complacent and forgot I was on a roof. That's right. I walked around, taking photos and trying to get the best angle, all while forgetting there was nothing separating me from a fatal fall – no fall harness, no railing, no guard, nothing. It was just me, my camera and an expanse of empty space.

It must have been pure, dumb luck that made me snap to attention as I wandered closer and closer to the edge. I was only about 2 feet away, busy trying to get the best shot, when I realized my situation. If I had continued using the camera instead of my brain for just a few more seconds, I easily could have fallen off the roof. And if that had happened, I probably wouldn't be writing this today.

Afterward, feeling shaken and foolish, I tried to piece together how I'd almost made such a huge mistake. First and foremost, I was an office worker who didn't worry about safety on the job. I'd never worked in construction, manufacturing or any other field that requires rigorous safety training. In fact, every job I'd ever had, from mucking out horse stalls to working in a pizza shop to running the cash register in a department store, left me feeling I was I in a "safe" field, even if perhaps I should have been more aware of certain hazards. After college, I worked in offices, where what I believed the most realistic threat – carpal tunnel – didn't concern me because I was young and healthy.

Safety, in short, had never been a conscious part of my working life.

Furthermore, while my employer was aware that I sometimes stepped onto the roof to take photographs, I was never offered any safety advice or even a firm "Be careful out there." While employees technically were not permitted to wander around on the roof, in reality, anyone could access that door and slip outside. We received no formal warning about avoiding the roof, or in fact any communication about roof access at all.  

As a result of all these factors, I happily stepped outside on multiple occasions without an inkling of concern for my own well-being. Yes, it was incredibly stupid of me to lose sight of the roof edge. But my complete lack of safety awareness set me up to fail. I never gave safety a second thought, but my employer didn't give me reason to, either.

Since working for EHS Today, my level of safety awareness both at home and at work has skyrocketed. Even so, Sandy and I aren't shy about revealing our mistakes. She's written about mowing the lawn in flip flops and placing herself in the middle of a dog fight, and I've admitted to taking zero ergonomic precautions when planting my garden. We share these stories not just to highlight our own slip-ups, but to point out that everyone should be aware of safety and take it seriously.

So take it from someone who almost walked right off a roof: Make sure each and every employee at your company understands potential risks – from fall hazards to public safety concerns to ergonomic issues – and help them avoid making a dumb mistake that could leave them injured or dead.

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

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