I would like to begin this discussion on safety by relating a story that I witnessed over fifty years ago. I was living in a suburb of Boston at the time. Winter was setting in. My neighbor directly across the street from me just came home with a brand new snow blower. I was in the house, so I didn’t see what happened, but I did hear what happened. I heard the snow blower running and a minute later an abrupt end of the noise. I sensed something was wrong and looked out the window. My neighbor was kneeling in the snow holding his arm. I could see red coloring in the snow where it had been blown. I went to his aid only to find he was missing all the fingers of his hand. It seems he put his hand down the chute and hit the rotating mechanism. To make a story short, after the ambulance came and took him away, I learned from his wife, he just started the machine as soon as he got it home without reading the manual. He was in a hurry and anxious to see the snow blower in action. He never used that snow blower again. I believe he sold it. Now on to safety.
Safety is a topic that should be on everyone’s mind. Dangers exist all around us. There are many different areas where safety is required, so it is not possible to discuss safety in one area and expect it to apply to other areas. There is safety around power tools; safety around dangerous chemicals; safety around construction sites; safety around electricity; safety in handling food, etc. You get the idea, but I’m going to focus only the former; power tools.
First I would like to discuss how we get injured by power tools before discussing how to be safe around power tools.
Picture someone coming home with a power saw for the first time. He has never used a power saw before and may not have used any type of power tool before. The first thing he does upon removing the saw from its packaging is usually to open the instruction manual, because there are small parts that have to be installed before he can plug it in. Being in a hurry, either because he doesn’t have much free time, or is just anxious to see the saw operate, he passes over the boring parts of the manual, usually the safety warnings and cautions. He goes directly to setting up the saw. He plugs in the saw, grabs a piece of wood and proceeds to cut the wood. At this point, any number of things can go wrong. The wood is damp or warped and pushing it into the blade, causes the kerf to close and the wood gets kicked back hitting him in the gut. If he is lucky, nothing more serious than a bruise will be encountered. More serious accidents can happen, such as getting hit in the eye or cutting off a finger or two. What all this points out is, the person failed to take the most preliminary steps to prevent injury. I won’t read you the safety rules. They are all spelled out in any instruction manual in detail including eye and hearing protection. This is just the first step in safety consciousness.
Safety, to be truly effective must become, in my opinion, second nature. What do I mean by second nature? It is when we can perform a task without thinking about it. Most of us can perform everyday tasks without much thought. We drive our car without thought of when to brake, or how fast to take a turn. We automatically react when danger is present. These tasks have become embedded in our brain through experience. We no longer have to think about it. Racing drivers have this second nature; so too are airline pilots, Navy Seals and anyone who must observe safety in their everyday lives. Safety is not inborn. It has to be learned.
Safety is a two part process. It can’t be learned from a book, but it is the first place to start. For it to become second nature, it has to be experienced. Anyone who has lost a finger in a saw accident has experienced the second part of safety awareness. Through his experience, it’s almost a certainty the same accident will never be repeated. That is a severe way to learn, but it does happen to various degrees. Just a small nick with a saw blade may be enough of a wake-up call for you to be more cautious. Although I don’t endorse the Saw Stop, it does provide someone with little experience around power tools to learn safety. My only concern; is a small nick enough to instill safety or to ignore it in the future?
I emphasize experience as being the ultimate teacher. Does that mean we have to lose a finger to learn safety? Certainly not; there are millions of people who work with dangerous tools and machines who still have all ten fingers, their eyesight and any other necessary parts of their bodies. How do they do it? These people are not reckless. They learned at an early age to learn and respect dangerous tools and machines. A calm spirit, an inquiring mind and a gentle nature works well. Someone who is always in a rush is someone who can easily get into trouble.
In closing, I would like to present an idea. Schools, from primary all the way up to high school and beyond should have a safety course as a mandatory subject.