WORK SMART – WORK SAFE … Carrier Slocomb

FACT: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) more workers are injured and killed doing familiar tasks than doing unfamiliar ones. Of these over 50% are looking down when the or accident incident occurs.

It’s been proven: paying attention, or staying focused on your work, the tools you’re using, and the work of those around you is the number one activity you can do to remain safe while working.

***Recently, a bulldozer operator with over 40 years of heavy equipment experience left his machine to give directions to a new arrival on his site. Against better judgment, he left his machine idling and without the brake set. When he returned to it, he slipped on the track, fell forward into the controls, engaged the reverse gear and was crushed to death when the dozer’s track fed him out through the rear fender.

What the BLS survey says is that, no matter how dangerous the work is, most workers are injured doing their regular tasks. This can only mean one thing – whenever we work doing the same thing we lose focus, and then we let our protective guard down.

Here’s an example; it's when we drive our trucks or cars someplace. Question: How often have you missed an exit because you weren’t focused on the road? Or you couldn’t remember the last five miles because your mind was elsewhere? That’s what we’re talking about.

Now see yourself driving a power saw, heavy drill, scissors lift, or welding torch today? Can you honestly say you’ll concentrate on what you’re doing every minute of the workday?

Our brains are a lot like airplanes – we can easily switch them to auto-pilot. Especially so when we do familiar work. When surroundings, people, and things seem familiar we allow our minds to wander. After all, not every task requires our full concentration, right? So, we sort of glide along, letting the auto-pilot feature fly our brains while we sit there glancing at the controls. The work gets done just fine. Most of the time.

***Who among you can’t see this? A carpenter was siding a third story balcony. The balcony was a foot narrower than the siding was long and did not have guardrails. The carpenter was working alone at a height of eighteen feet without fall protection. His last piece required that he cut 3” off the entire length. He cut it by bending over with his blade and walking backwards. With less than 12” left to cut, and no guardrail to stop him or fall protection on, the carpenter walked backwards off the balcony to his death.

Does gliding along on auto-pilot get us injured? Not every time of course, but statistics show that our lack of concentration gets us into real trouble. Who hasn’t been looking down when a co-worker, tripping eight feet away, causes a cascade of wood, forms, or equipment to tumble into us? If we’re alert, we jump out of the way. But if our brains are on auto-pilot our reactions are too slow to avoid an injury. Sound familiar?

Why aren’t workers more aware that injuries can occur to them? After all, safety’s discussed every day in Zapps, Tool Box Meetings, on posters around the site, by Foremen, Safety Engineers, and Superintendents? The short answer is workers are not convinced they’ll get hurt.

Avoiding injury, and worse death, is exactly what safety trains for. Wear safety glasses and a face shield when grinding, a respirator as well when cutting concrete, and don’t forget to clip off at 6 feet or the Foreman or Safety Guy will be on your back. But you’ve worked days, months, years, injury free – a power tool taking out half your hand, ground metal flying into your eye, or mud on your boot making you slip off the lift will happen to Jose or Charlie, not you!

This explains why highway workers, when hearing tires squealing and brakes locking just feet away don’t instantly react to the danger they’re in. The truth is they’ve worked too long with traffic zooming alongside them without incident. Their brains are probably on auto-pilot while they work. That natural protective instinct that would make them leap away is switched off. They’ve become complacent. Nothing bad has happened yet, so why would it now?

***This photo is from an Environmental, Health, and Safety issue published last summer. The subject of the article was Lock Out/Tag Out, and it shows what can happen to a worker if he isn’t focused on the job at hand. In this case, the worker didn’t make sure the equipment he was working on was safely switched off, locked-out, and de-energized. Clearly, he’s in a heap of trouble here. One or both his legs were lost. It’s a good illustration of what can happen when we let our brains run on auto-pilot.

So, when you work today and every day don’t be complacent. Work smart – work safe.

Like anything else, these strategies are footed in common sense. Common sense is something we’re supposed to learn early on; however, common sense in business is usually a well fought over talent, one that we gain at huge personal cost. Yes, it took me thirty-five years to even get most of it right. --Learn more about my strategies for contractor success at, under the heading Pro Desk.