I like getting letters from readers, but don’t bother writing to me about the sawing technique in my photo (see Letters). I actually know enough not to cross-cut a board suspended between a pair of sawhorses, but to avoid further humiliation, I’ll replace the photo soon. I left it in this issue, though, as a reminder to talk about job-site safety.
Accidents on the job are caused by a number of factors. Inexperience, carelessness, fatigue, willful negligence, improper or poorly maintained equipment, and sometimes just plain dumb luck all play a role in whether you go home safely to your family at the end of the day, or your day ends with a visit to the emergency room.
Some of these factors are within your control, which is where safety training comes in. Large companies that are subject to OSHA regulations have safety plans, safety officers, safety equipment, specific procedures, and regularly scheduled safety meetings to help minimize job-site risks. And in addition to providing mandatory workers’ compensation insurance, many companies typically offer health insurance plans (though the health-insurance landscape will soon change dramatically as the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014).
But how does a small deck-building company or one-man show manage safety? If you’re a sole proprietor, do you opt in to a workers’ compensation insurance plan? Do you review your own safety practices on a regular basis? Do you even have health insurance?
These questions came to mind recently when I broke my foot while helping an excavator repair my home’s leach field. At the emergency room, I learned that an avulsion of the fifth metatarsal — the long bone on the outside of your foot that connects to your little toe — is a relatively common injury.
I was on crutches for a week, and hobbled for two or three weeks after that, not a big deal for a magazine editor working at a desk all day, but certainly a problem if I were trying to make my living as a deck builder. How would your family fare if you couldn’t work for three weeks and didn’t have insurance to pay for your emergency room visit?
When I made my living as a carpenter, I had a more serious injury: I was hit in the face with a 2x6 kicked back from a table saw. On the positive side, I learned a few lessons about table-saw safety that have stayed with me to this day; on the negative side, I broke my jaw and lost or damaged several teeth. Fortunately at the time, our family had another source of income (my wife, who taught school), and I had health insurance (through her plan) that paid most of my medical bills.
Better training wouldn’t have prevented the foot injury, but it might have prevented the broken jaw. Do you make risky cuts, or take shortcuts that make you feel uncomfortable, or work when you’re dog-tired? Do you bother wearing eye protection when using your air nailer? If there’s an accident, do you know who to contact and what information and procedures are required by your insurance provider?
I had insurance and resources that prevented relatively simple injuries from turning into serious financial problems. Can you say the same thing? If not, it’s time to take a look at your own safety net.