Safety Week 2010: Lessons Learned and Never Forgotten
We have all done stupid things that fortunately resulted in no one really getting hurt and a lasting memory that tells you to never try that again.
When I was in high school and backpacking in the mountains near Aspen, CO, my buddy and I decided to rappel off a cliff and into a waterfall. Seemed like a good idea and a great way to get pictures of the falls. Stupidly we set up our ropes a little too close to the falls and the wind blew us into the cascade of water and essentially pinned us against the cliff face under the onslaught. No matter how hard I pushed away from the wall that torrent just held me tight. In the end I had to hold my breath and drop further down the wall to get the pendulum leverage to swing away and into the drink below. Stupid move that resulted in a harrowing few minutes and something I will never do again.
A few years later I was playing a drunk in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and on the night of the show, while rehearsing a drunken sword fight I decided to add a leap off the stage into the orchestra pit for dramatic effect. That leap was proceeded by a trip and a fall onto my sword, which eventually landed me in the hospital to have my ruptured spleen removed. (after doing the show and the cast party of course)
Really that is what sums up the above incidents. That and adolescent testosterone induced idiocy. How many times has your own confidence gotten in the way of safety in your workshop? How many times have you tried a slightly risky action on your table saw or router table that caused one of those heart stopping, pants filling, split seconds that forever change the way you look at that tool again? I have a few that have increased my respect of the table saw and my dedicated readers will remember me sharing them here on this blog.
I was batch cutting a bunch of small box parts in preparation for one of my craft shows. I have respirator, hearing protection, and eye protection on with dust collector running. The splitter was on the table, and I was using a push stick. Rather than shutting off the saw after each cut I kept it running and just kept cutting the parts. I was pushing them completely clear of the saw on each cut so they just lay upon the out feed area. When that space got full I reached across the blade, no guard in place, and picked up the pieces. (are your palms sweating yet?) On one of those reaches one of the pieces slipped out of my hand landing on the spinning blade and was catapulted at high speed directly into my stomach. It knocked the wind out of me and left a very colorful bruise for several weeks. Lesson learned put a guard on that blade and never reach across the blade while it is still spinning. If you don’t have a blade guard then turn off the saw after every cut and let the blade come to a stop before you even move.
In a similar instance I was batch cutting smaller parts again but this time with the aid of the fence. I had set up a starting block a la Norm Abrams prior to the blade to register my cuts while still providing space between the blade and fence further into the cut. Once my piece was cut free it had an extra 3/4″ space before getting trapped between fence and blade. I kept cutting and cutting letting my cut off fall into that space. After 3 or 4 cuts the space was getting tight and sure enough one of the off cuts was pushed into the blade and came shooting up into my face. Safety glasses saved me from serious harm but the corner of a piece caught me in the temple and drew a little blood. Really nothing, but enough to teach me a lesson.
Sure in hindsight both of these situations scream danger. But look at what I did right. I had taken safety precautions and was confident in them. In fact those precautions probably prevented these accidents from being so much worse. Still my confidence in what I was doing and reliance on my gear may have caused a little hubris of my own.
Let’s not be scared of our tools, what good does that do. Remember that there are no master craftsmen when it comes to safety. We are all novices in that department. The common thread to both of these accidents was that I was really in just too big of a hurry. I was trying to meet a deadline and I needed to slow down and just be safe. Lesson learned and I won’t do anything that stupid again.
I’ll sum it up with another story from my past. My senior year in high school I worked as a tour guide in a cave. While there was much to see it was primarily my job as guide to engage the guests and keep up a witty conversation. I had done this tour so many times and knew the route so well that I walked backwards the entire time talking to my guests. On every tour, it was inevitable that I would get the question, “don’t you bump your head by walking backwards like that?” My answer was always the same,
“I only bumped it once, then I remember to not do it again”