Thursday, 26 March 2015

Rushing, Hazards and Mindfulness

I was preparing to shoot the first four videos of our Expedition to Safety series with our partner ERI Safety Videos when I got a call from New York.

Here was a shocking irony. My son Steffan, who is in the custom fine carpentry business, had been injured on the job. He had cut off a finger and seriously injured two others on a table saw. This was a very difficult message to hear – I was a thousand miles away and there was real uncertainty about the outcome. They reattached the severed finger at the hospital, but we didn’t yet know how successful it was going to be. I was very concerned, Steffan was in serious pain and his wife was fearful.

When there is an injury on the job, somebody has to make the call to notify the family; not an easy call to make. When there is a fatality, that call is exponentially more difficult.

How did it happen? The situation was not unusual. Steffan had just returned from vacation, and he was trying to get a job finished on a Friday – wanting to be done, paid and out of there. He and a partner were ripping strips of material for a custom installation—Steffan was feeding the material into the saw, and his partner was pulling the material off the other side. Wanting to make more efficient use of their time, Steffan told him to go and work on another aspect of the project, and he carried on ripping the material alone. This involved feeding material into the saw while reaching over the blade to guide the material that was coming out. In a moment, the material kicked back, pulling Steffan’s hand into the rotating blade.

In the immediate aftermath, in shock I am sure, he briefly thought of coping with the injuries using their first aid kit, and getting on with the job, but quickly realized he needed emergency medical attention –he had a severed finger!

Fortunately, Steffan’s wife arrived while he was realizing this and got him to the emergency room right away. After a five-hour wait, he was seen and his finger was surgically reattached. In all, he received forty stitches in his hand. He spent two days in hospital and after six months of physiotherapy, he still has limited use of the finger, though the reattachment took. He will need plastic surgery to restore more movement to that finger. So along with the shock and extreme pain, and the impact on his family, Steffan’s critical error led to lost time on the job; two days in hospital and considerably inhibited work capacity for quite some time afterward.

Smiling for his wife;dying inside of pain after receiving 40 stitches. 
When I asked him to reflect on the incident and how he has changed his behaviour on the job, he said, “It was definitely an eye-opener. I had a general sense of needing to be safe with machinery, but there was also the belief that it’ll never happen. Then it did. I am glad I already had a practice of never having more than an eighth of an inch of blade showing clear of the material I am cutting; if the blade had been set higher, I would have cut off three fingers. I am a lot more cautious and careful around machinery now, I think out what I am going to do and how I can keep my hands away from hazards like a rotating saw blade. I used to hate the blade guarding that came with the table saw, including the riving knife (which had been removed) that prevents the material from binding and kicking back—now I like it.  I use more jigs and guards, and generally pay better attention.”

This story obviously has a personal impact on me, and it is also a great example of the risks of rushing in the presence of hazards. I define rushing as moving faster than usual or doing too many things at once. This leads to situations like eyes not on task and puts you in the line fire. When you go faster than normal, you are not fully attending to what you are actually doing, and it is easier to miss seeing a hazard until it is too late –you will not be able to react in time to protect yourself.

This really points up the value of mindfulness – keeping your attention on the moment-to-moment actions you are executing. It is so easy to shift mentally into multitasking, giving your attention to a time goal like getting the job done today, thinking about how to get more out of your manpower resources and in the end, making poor choices that lead to a serious injury incident. Poor decisions, like skipping steps in a process, are often the result of rushing to meet a time target.

Insurance statistics I have read point out that more than ninety percent of incidents occur because workers have not been doing their job properly – skipping steps, bypassing safety procedures and guarding, etc.

Lessons learned:

Maintaining mindfulness while working near hazards is absolutely vital to staying injury incident free;

No amount of guarding and safety protective gear can prevent injury if you work to circumvent them;

Rushing in pursuit of the illusion of efficiency is not worth the risk of serious injury. It is natural to want to get the job done – just be mindful of the potential cost.

The impact of poor decisions leading to injury is not just on the individual; family, fellow workers, employer and customers are all affected as well.

The Expedition to Safety videos will be available April 1 from

A sample video can be viewed at

No comments:

Post a Comment