People Who Fall & Get Back Up are Idiots: A Different Safety Perspective

A Fat Kid Kicked My Leg In Half…

I got in a fight over $0.50 during my freshman year in High School. Were it to happen today it would certainly make it to Instagram. Maybe it would even go viral. Not because it was an epic fight, but because of how utterly stupid it was.

I had borrowed 50 cents from a classmate so I could buy a soda during lunch. After purchasing the drink, that classmate approached me and the group of kids I was standing with demanding I return his money. Obviously, I had no way to do that since I was drinking it. He wasn’t satisfied by that answer, however, and after a few escalating verbal exchanges things became physical. He grabbed the coke and pushed it into my face.

I should stop here and note that this kid was extremely large for his age. He weighed in at near 350 pounds compared to my tiny 120-pound frame. Aside from sheer size he had another extreme advantage over me. I had a broken leg. Stress fractured actually, but a crack is a crack.

In the preceding two or three weeks, I had actually been on crutches to support my wounded leg. It had come about due to excessive use during the cross country season, initially being diagnosed as shin splints. I had been running around on it for months until it finally decided to say no. That day just happened to be the regional finals race which we lost (I still beat three other runners as I limped to the finish line, please hold your applause).

Anyhoo… everyone at school knew about my leg. The giant who wanted his coke money back was no exception. After he doused me, I pushed him back. Then the “fight” broke out. He grabbed my right shoulder and swept my cracked left leg just below the fracture. Instinctively I dropped to the ground in an act of self-preservation.

It took a moment, but once I realized nothing bad had happened to my bum leg, my anger surged and drove me back to my feet. I tried to throw a punch but my foe’s baseball mitt of a hand clamped my shoulder again as his right leg swept my left. Harder this time. I dropped again. Still, nothing had happened.

The crowd was growing as I readied myself for a third attempt. I stood once more only to be met with the same offensive move. This time his tree trunk of a leg made contact with the crack in mine. Everyone heard the crunch as I crumbled to the ground with an extra joint in left my leg (not really, he only broke the larger tibia bone). It was a sickening sound that was only drowned out by the flood of searing pain that followed.

How Could Someone Be So Stupid?

I’ll come back to my broken leg in a bit, but let’s shift the conversation for a moment. Consider any industrial environment. Maybe even yours. Let’s say, for the sake of this conversation, that this site hires new employees regularly. Some are skilled and experienced tradespeople, others are right out of High School starting their first job. This site, just as all the others like it has hazards unique unto itself. As a matter of due diligence, you conduct orientation training with each of these new employees about those hazards.

One of those hazards presents itself in a task these new workers will have to do daily. They will have to connect piping and tubing which will carry highly caustic chemicals through a system and clean it. In orientation, you explained in detail that the chemicals inside are extremely dangerous. You explained that they need to wear chemical resistant PPE from head to toe. You even explained that tearing these systems apart requires detailed Lockout/Tagout procedures. All of your new employees nod along in agreement and graduate your training with honors.

A few days later one of those new employees is working on the production floor and has been given a bit of freedom. He hooks up the supply lines just as he was instructed and then initiates the process, filling the piping with a mixture of chemical and water. As the lines pressurize he notices a couple leaks and immediately turns off the pumps. He goes to the leaks and loosens a clamp or two so he can replace them and get a proper seal. In doing so the residual pressure in the system sprays him with the diluted solution. Thankfully he’s got on his protective bib overalls, so nothing a actually gets on his clothes. He then restarts the pumps.

Once again the leaks spring up. There are fewer this time, but he repeats the process. Again he’s sprayed, but nothing contacts his skin. Upon starting the pumps the third time, he notices there is only one remaining leak. Feeling as if he’s made great progress and is proving himself as a hard worker, he turns off the pumps, loosens the clamp and is DOUSED from head to toe due to the pressure. Caustic covers his face and gets into his eyes, immediately beginning to burn and threatening his future vision unless he’s provided with prompt medical care.

Perspective Isn’t Universal

Both of the stories I’ve told here are examples of people taking unnecessary risks. Some might consider them examples of unsafe, perhaps even stupid behavior. There’s really no point in arguing that. But we would be remiss if we ended the discussion there. Let’s take them one by one.

In my case, there was an adrenaline-filled fifteen-year-old who had run hundreds of miles on a broken leg and survived. Sure I had a hairline crack in my leg, but I could walk without pain and felt invincible. When I entered the fight my resolve was strengthened by the fact that my broken leg had been kicked not once, but twice by a human fence post. It hadn’t broken either time. Not only that, but I could see the other guy getting more and more nervous each time I stood up. I was fine… until I wasn’t.

In the case of our new worker, I have to imagine he had very similar feelings. The inherent dangers of the chemical may have crossed his mind (you told him after all). But with no practical experience dealing with the gravity of that hazard, he had no reason to believe he was in harm’s way. Then he “proved” to himself that nothing bad was going to happen. Twice.

Experience is a powerful teacher. But it can also be a catalyst for complacency for those using it to teach. Next time you’re in a position to convey your experience to someone else, be sure you don’t fall into the trap of believing that person will understand what you’re teaching in the same way you do. That person doesn’t have the same perspective as you. Keep that thought in the back of your mind. Then show them how to do the task, make them repeat it, and check their performance often.

My leg healed completely from my stupid incident, but there was no guarantee of that at the time. If you had the opportunity to keep someone from that type of ordeal, how successful do you think you’d be?

As always, thanks for reading. Please like, subscribe, and share with all your friends. Together we can reach thousands hundreds tens of people with a new way to think safety.

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