Your First Reaction

This week’s Safety Topic is reprinted from the April 2002 issue of Rock Products magazine. The author is Randy K. Logsdon, Manager, Safety and Health, Vulcan Materials Co. Midwest Division

Anyone who has had to learn a new and difficult task understands the importance of practice. Repetition makes the task easier to duplicate each successive time. Eventually the steps become automatic. We are told practice makes perfect.

Scott Geller, an expert on behavior-based safety, suggests that practice does not make perfect— rather, practice makes permanent. If we learn and practice unsafe procedures, those steps will likely become permanent or automatic. Coaches are constantly looking for performance flaws that athletes practice. A pitching coach will study a pitchers wind-up, stretch, arm motion, release and follow through. I recently tested a group of 30 people on applying the three-point contact rule for climbing a ladder. (The three-point rule requires three points of secure contact at all times when ascending or descending ladders.) Although I explained the concept and demonstrated the technique, 28 of the 30 moved an arm and a leg at the same time. The permanence, a result of years of practice, is so prominent that even in a conscious test situation most were unable to perform the skill as instructed. The way to correct an undesirable action is to consciously practice the correct action until it replaces the old action as permanent. Anyone who battles a consistent slice on the golf course understands the difficulty in accomplishing such a change. So, will learning proper steps for a task and practicing those steps correctly ensure safety? Not necessarily. Normally we practice the routine steps for a task under relatively safe, controlled conditions. We should also prepare for the unexpected emergency. Under carefully controlled conditions, some emergency situations can be simulated. But should an emergency occur, your initial reaction will likely be your first opportunity to react correctly to save your own life. You may get only one chance.

Recently, a flight attendant handed me a soft drink and a cup of ice. Along with the cup she handed me a cocktail napkin. I reached for the cup and the napkin with my right hand, but grasped only the cup. The napkin began to fall. Quickly, with my left hand, I caught the napkin in midair—nearly spilling the drink on another passenger. If the napkin had fallen to the floor, no harm would have been done—yet, I reacted suddenly and instinctively as if such an outcome would be catastrophic. Although I was proud of my ability to catch the napkin without spilling the beverage, the scenario could easily have resulted in a spill, a stain and an angry traveler in my row. I apologized to the young lady who would most likely have been the victim of the spill. Her reply was nonchalant: “it’s just human nature.”

Human nature or not, it was an instinctive response that was incorrect. The incorrect response of a truck driver who feels his back wheels sink as he dumps on a stockpile could be much more devastating. Even the reaction of someone climbing a ladder may end in disaster when a hand or foot slips. Although you may not be able to practice your reactions to these or dozens of other emergency scenarios, you can prepare for them mentally. You can identify the likely risks for a given situation and develop a reactive strategy in your mind. Share the strategies. Others may be able to benefit from or help optimize your process. Mentally practice the steps until you know exactly how to react to each potential emergency. Then, you will likely respond the right way the first time.

The theme here has been a recurring one in these Safety Topics: Think about what is going on around you and anticipate the possibilities. 

You’re Responsible

Every person is the architect of his or her own fortune, and that fortune, good or bad, depends on the individual’s acceptance of personal responsibility.

At a young age, we are taught to assume responsibilities. (“Look before you cross the street … playing with matches is dangerous … be home before dark …”) Even today, as adults, we still learn and decide whether to accept certain obligations. Young or old, we make individual choices.

When responsibilities are shunned or rejected, someone must cope with the results. Police officers, judges, juvenile officers, and social workers respond to most of these rejections in our society. In safety, doctors, nurses, and funeral directors deal with the consequences of rejected responsibilities.

There are laws, both federal and state, designed to spell out responsibilities for safety in the work place, but actual performance of these obligations still belongs to you.

By accepting and practicing safety responsibility, you ensure your future both at home and on the job. You do the same for your fellow worker as well, because socially and morally you are responsible for preventing accidents to others as well.

If you see an unsafe act, do something about it – point it out so others are aware and can avoid future mistakes.

  • Point out to other employees when safety isn’t being practiced. After all, it’s their responsibility to prevent an accident to you as well.
  • Be willing to serve on a safety committee. Be more than just a member; be active and creative.
  • Use good work habits – don’t be impulsive, and remember that hurrying can hurt.

Develop the attitude that “if I do something wrong, I’m taking the chance of getting hurt.” Then do the job the right way.

Help new or unsafe employees learn that safety is the rule, not the exception. Teach them proper safety responsibility before you turn them loose.
Practice leaving personal problems and emotional stress away from the job

Remember that accidents don’t happen – they are caused.

Correct little mistakes before they grow into permanent bad habits.

What you can do to prevent accidents

Have you ever wondered what you can do to prevent accidents?  Maybe, like many people, you believe accidents are bound to happen and there’s not much you can do about them.  Or, you may think that they only happen to the other person.  Well, the truth is that accidents do happen to everyone and can be prevented.

Something to think about

Statistics show that in many cases the victim, or the victim’s co-worker, could have prevented an accident.  Think of accidents that happened to people you know.  Usually, it was a stupid mistake.  Right?  In other words, that person or someone else working on the job could have prevented it.

Seven excellent suggestions

Here are seven ways you can do something about preventing accidents:

  1. Make accident prevention a part of your daily routine.  Plan safety in advance.  Before beginning a job, be sure your tools are in good condition.  Also, see that you have the required protective equipment.
  2. Report unsafe acts or conditions to your supervisor. If you see something that’s dangerous or someone working in an unsafe way, do something about it. If it’s an unsafe condition, correct it if you can.  Otherwise, report it to someone who has the authority or ability to do so.  If you see someone committing an unsafe act, warn that person in a friendly way.
  3. Avoid horseplay.  Aren’t you always telling your kids to knock off fooling around before someone gets hurt?  Well, horseplay is dangerous for kids of any age.  On a construction job you can easily be injured if you’re not strictly business all of the time.  Often a person is killed or hurt when a “harmless” prank or a practical joke backfires.
  4. Follow instructions.  You’d follow instructions if you were dismantling a time bomb —and very carefully at that!  Well, take the same attitude on the job.  When we give you instructions, it’s only after we’ve considered the safest and best way to do it.  Sometimes doing something just a little different from what you were told can get you or someone else in a lot of trouble.
  5. Make suggestions.  If you see a quicker or a better way to do something, let us know.  We’ll check it out and if it’s practical, we’ll use it.  But first we’ll make sure it’s safe.  And if you see a safer way of doing something, bring it to our attention, by all means.
  6. Practice good housekeeping.  Nobody likes a slob.  It’s upsetting to see someone with a messy work area.  But it goes even further than that.  A sloppy work area is not only hard on the eyes, but it’s a breeding ground for accidents.  Trash and materials strewn around can result in trips, falls, and fires.
  7. Dress for the job.  In addition to wearing protective equipment, dress so that you won’t     get hurt.  Don’t wear floppy clothing (such as loose sleeves or cuffs) or jewelry that can catch on something or become entangled in machinery.

Weather – Why talk about it?

Actually, we have no control over rain, snow, sleet, wind, lightning or sunshine.  But we can control what happens on our job as a result of the elements.  Some of the biggest problems on construction jobs are caused by wind and lightning. Wind probably causes the most accidents; lightning can be deadly.

Watch out for Wind

Don’t let the wind catch you off guard.  I’m not just thinking of tornadoes but of everyday winds and unexpected gusts.  Wind just loves to pick up anything it can and sail it away.  So when it’s windy, securely tie or weight down supplies and materials.

It’s amazing what a little wind can do.  Some gusts can pick up a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood from the top of a high rise building and carry it several blocks.  Or blow you off a platform. On one occasion, the wind blew empty 10-gallon drums off a 15-story building.  One drum went through the roof of a tool shed.  What would have happened if the drum had landed on you?  You’d have had more than a giant sized headache.

Don’t loiter on the leeward side of un-braced walls, lumber stacks or anything else that can be blown over by a sudden guest of wind.  In many instances, workers have been seriously injured when an un-braced wall or form was blown over on them while they were sitting in its shade during lunch or before starting work.

Lightning Hurts

Every so often we read about workers being struck by lightning.  They usually come out second best. Recently a hook-up man was electrocuted when lightning struck the crane boom while he was holding on to the hook preparing some materials to be lifted.

We all like to keep things moving until we’re rained out.  But when lightning is around, it’s safer to take shelter early.  Very often an electrical storm occurs without rain.  Or a lightning storm precedes the rain.  So if you’re washing down your mixer, or around other projecting equipment or a building, the safest thing to do is to seek shelter when you see lightning.

You’ll be reasonably safe from lightning inside the structure. You’ll also be fairly safe in an automobile or truck.  But never take shelter under an isolated tree or where you’re in contact with a tractor, crane, or other equipment.  If you get caught out in the open, stay as low as you can.  It’s much safer to be down in a ditch than on top of the ground.

 Rain Can Ruin a Job

Rain may be good for the farmer but it can play havoc with a construction job.  It can turn it into a gigantic mud pie.  Water seems to get in everywhere.  Rain can ruin building materials and supplies and generally make things downright messy.  Steel gets slippery, equipment gets stuck, and we get wet.

By covering equipment, materials, tools, supplies and ourselves, we don’t give rain a chance to do as much damage as it could.

Controlling the Weather

As I said, we can control the weather only as far as it affects the job.  I haven’t been able to discuss all of the safety precautions that can be taken in case of inclement weather.  But common sense usually dictates the right thing to do in any situation.

Slips, Trips & Falls

Not long ago in a central Arkansas industrial plant, a janitorial helper was scrubbing the steps and floors with water and a cleaning agent.  An observant co-worker realized that soon dozens of people would be going down those steps to their coffee break.  This person then took the proper action to warn others and avert this potentially dangerous situation.

An unguarded wet floor is only one of the many contributing factors that account for 1 in 8 workers’ compensation cases due to slips and falls.  Injuries that are sustained from slipping and/or falling on the job take a heavy toll in medical suffering.  Besides the pain, suffering, and expenses, each injury from a fall is potentially life threatening.  It is important to spot unsafe conditions that may lead to slips and falls and prevent them.

 There are various ways to experience slips and/or falls while working.  You can slip and lose your balance; you can trip over an object left in a walkway; or you can fall from an elevated position such as a ladder or stairs.

To avoid slips and falls, be on the lookout for foreign objects or substances on the floor.  Watch for deposits of water, food, grease, oil, or debris.  Even a small amount or object can be enough to make you fall.

When entering a building from the outdoors, thoroughly clean the soles of your footwear.  Rainy or snowy weather requires a door mat at each entrance to permit you to remove moisture or debris that may be clinging to your shoes.  Don’t walk too fast, or take long strides when stepping from the door mat onto the floor.  The soles of your shoes may still be damp enough to cause you to slip.  Walk with caution, and avoid changing direction too sharply.

Be aware of tripping hazards; trash, unused materials, electrical cords, any object left in an aisle or other designated pedestrian traffic path.  If maintenance work necessitates leaving equipment or materials in a walkway, make sure the area has warning signs or is barricaded to alert pedestrians.

If you find equipment or material left in a walkway, report it.  If it’s maintenance equipment and supplies, let the proper personnel remove it.  Help keep passageways clear of trash or trip hazards.  If you toss something at a trash container, and miss it, or if someone else has left something lying on the floor, by all means –  Pick It Up!

Walk in designated aisle ways.  Short cuts through other’s work areas invite accidents.  Concentrate on where you are going — inattention leaves you vulnerable to unsafe conditions.

Hold on to handrails when using stairs.  They are there to protect you should you slip.  If you’re carrying a bulky or heavy load which hampers your ability to climb stairs safely, use the elevator or get help!

The worst falls are from elevated positions like ladders or scaffolding.  They can result in serious injury or death.  Learn and practice ladder safety and the proper use of scaffolding.

Ladders must be the proper length, and should extend at least three rungs above the highest point.  Position the ladder at the proper angle for climbing — one foot away from the wall for every four feet of height.  When climbing or descending, place both hands on the side rails.  Never climb a ladder with your hands full.  Climb to the desired height and then hoist any tools or materials up with a rope.

Once you’re at the desired working height, don’t over-reach.  Keep your body and legs within the lines of the ladder side rails.  Extend only your arms.

Slips and falls occur every day.  Their occurrence and the extent of injuries can be eliminated or minimized through a knowledge and application of safe work practices.  Lessons learned the hard way may have a permanent effect — serious injury or death.

Don’t learn your lessons the hard way; practice safety.












Slips and trips continue to cause us problems. Many of the incidents involving slips and trips result in broken bones, contusions, pulled muscles, strains, and as often as not, embarrassment.

Have you ever slipped and thought that you just made a fool of yourself and then quickly looked around to see if anyone else saw you?  You know, bipedal motion is inherently unstable. Stop and think about how much more stable are creatures with four legs. Each step by us humans has a moment of instability built in when only one appendage is touching a walking surface. What that means is that we are vulnerable to the slightest complication or obstacle. Every step could lead to a slip, trip, and fall. Now add climbing, adverse weather conditions, or poor housekeeping to the mixture.

Did you know that during normal walking the average person only raises their foot about 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch above the walking surface? If you are in a hurry you may raise that foot as much as 5/8 inch. (This does not include full bore running, since we don’t do that at work, except maybe at quitting time). How many things can you think of that could potentially present a tripping hazard when we only lift our feet less than half an potential for oil or grease or even water to be on the walking surfaces. All three of these liquids are used to reduce friction, and they work very well for that. The same characteristics of these liquids that make sliding parts move past each other with less effort will work to make the sole of your shoe slide on walking surfaces more easily. Mud or slurry or ice will do the same thing.

Preventive measures . . .

However menial housekeeping may seem to you, it is the single most important preventive measure that we must take to minimize the potential for slips, trips and falls. The housekeeping that I am talking about goes beyond using a broom and mop in working and break areas. Also included would be taking the time to clean up and dispose of spilled oil products, consciously not tracking mud into areas where other people will be traveling, and above all, taking an active role in the prevention of potential injury


Taking Shortcuts Is Common Practice

Everyone takes a shortcut at one time or another.  Kids jump the fence instead of using the gate.  Pedestrians cross streets between intersections.  In many cases, a shortcut involves danger.

Break the Habit

If you have the habit of taking dangerous shortcuts, break it.  In construction work it can be deadly.

An ironworker who tried to cross an opening by swinging on reinforcing rods slipped and fell 20′ onto a concrete floor.  If he had taken a few moments to walk around the opening, he’d still be tying rods.

Avoid  Dangerous Situations

If you are told to go to a particular work area, Norwalk Ready Mix expects you to take the safe route, not the shorter, more hazardous one.  Norwalk Ready Mix, however, can’t be a guardian angel sitting on your shoulder.  Avoiding dangerous shortcuts is up to you.  And it’s your responsibility to warn anyone else you see taking shortcuts.

What if there’s no safe way to get there                                       

Let me know.  And I’ll see that the necessary means of access is provided.

 Shortcuts Are More Dangerous at Heights

Even though the job may take but a few minutes, don’t climb on false work or an improvised platform.  Use the ladder. And don’t go from one elevation to another by climbing a column or sliding down a rope.  Ladders, steps, and walkways are built to save your neck as well as convenience.  Use them.


The safe way isn’t always the shortest way.  But it’s the surest way by far.

Setting a Good Example

Setting a good example is not a “put-on.”  It is simply working safety into your daily routine at home and on the job. When we all work safely, it means everyone is less likely to get hurt on the job and our futures are more secure.

New employees certainly benefit by seeing operations conducted the safe way.  As you all know from experience, people new on the job take a while to adjust and to discover how they fit in the overall set-up of the plant.

New employees who have never held a job before or those who were employed by a firm that had a weak safety program probably will need considerable safety instruction.  We try to tell them how to do their job the safe way, but as with everything else, actions speak much louder than words.  The actions these new employees will “hear” – and ultimately copy – are yours.

Remember how it was for you the first day on your job.  You watched the old hands to see how they did things.  You asked them questions, and did what they told you.  So I’d like to ask each of you “old hands” to do your new co-workers — and yourself — a favor.  Teach the new folks the safe way to work by setting a good example and working safely every day.  Don’t take shortcuts.  Don’t by-pass guards and safety devices.  Do the right thing.

You may think “I don’t have anybody new in my area.”   And that may be the case.  But you never know when someone with less experience will be watching — and copying — what you do.

New employees aren’t the only ones that need to have a good safety example.  Old hands get hurt, too.  How many times have you heard these comments?

“Safety equipment is for sissies.”

“I don’t have time to do it the safe way.”

Saying these things – and acting this way -not only puts you at risk, but makes it harder for people who do want to work safely to do so. Don’t be responsible for someone getting hurt because you talked him or her out of wearing the proper safety gear or doing a job the safe way.

You also need to remember how your safe or unsafe actions make our plant look to the visitors we have from time to time.  Often these visitors are our customers.  It makes our plant look sloppy and poorly run if they see our people disregarding safety.  We  try to show our customers that we are a good plant that makes a good product.

Saving Your Skin and the Skin of Our Customers

What is a cement burn and what can we do to prevent it?
Physicians call cement-related skin problems contact dermatitis, of which there are two types: irritant and allergic. Irritant contact dermatitis – what most people call a cement burn – is a rash caused by skin contact with a chemical or substance that causes direct injury to skin cells.

Alkalinity, abrasiveness and the hygroscopic (that means it is able to absorb moisture from the atmosphere or your skin) nature of wet concrete is the cause of irritant contact dermatitis. This skin problem can be prevented by safe work practices and appropriate personal protective equipment.

Allergic contact dermatitis is a rash caused by skin contact with a chemical substance that penetrates the skin and triggers an allergic reaction. It is estimated that 5% to 15% of workers exposed to wet concrete may be sensitive to concrete in a manner where they need to be concerned about an allergic reaction. Allergic contact dermatitis is a serious medical problem and is much more difficult to control than irritant dermatitis.

Under the Hazard Communication Standards we, the producer, have a responsibility to inform not only our employees, but our customers about the hazards associated with handling our products. More importantly, it is the right thing to do. We accomplish this by use of our MSDS on freshly mixed unhardened concrete, and by the judgment of our drivers to determine whether or not the contractor or do-it-yourselfer is putting themselves in harms way.

I suspect that those people who need some coaching on the hazardous aspects of concrete handling and finishing are pretty obvious when arriving on the jobsite.

When an inexperienced customer is encountered, make an extra effort to provide as much information as is possible. Recommend appropriate personal protective equipment to include long sleeved shirts, long pants, boots, gloves, knee pads, and eye protection. Explain that prolonged contact with the product can result in serious skin injury. Warn that soaked clothes should be removed immediately and washed thoroughly prior to reuse. The customer should thoroughly wash skin that was in contact with wet concrete after the job is complete. If the customer refuses to heed warnings, please let your supervisor or dispatcher know.

I truly believe that communication is the  key to success in this as in most safety issues: management to employee, employee to customer. Word of mouth can be a powerful tool.

Safe Lifting Techniques

Can you think of even one job or occupation where you never have to lift? I can’t. Lifting is very much a part of our everyday jobs. And, because it’s something we do so often, we tend to do it automatically, without thinking. At least we don’t think about lifting until our backs start to hurt.

Lifting incorrectly can result in a variety of injuries. Back strain is probably the one most common type of injury. A back strain usually results from over-stretching certain muscles. Another type of injury that can result from lifting incorrectly is a hernia. Both of these injuries can be extremely painful. Both are usually the result of incorrect body mechanics and/or extreme exertion. The good thing is that all injuries that may result as a consequence of incorrect lifting are preventable.

Don’t underestimate the importance of being in good physical condition. Years of poor posture, overeating, lack of exercise, and stress can catch up with you. Poor physical conditioning, coupled with incorrect lifting, can be a hazardous combination where your personal health and safety are concerned. Learn how your back works, what its limitations are, and what you can do to keep it healthy. Ask your family physician for recommendations to strengthen your back, and then practice them regularly.

  1. Safe lifting plays a major part in your effort to maintain a healthy back and prevent injury to it. Even though there doesn’t seem to be just one right method to lift an object, there are lifting techniques that can reduce the strain on your lower back. Correct lifting techniques involve several common steps. They are:
  2. Size up the load. Look it over, decide if you can handle it alone or if you will need help. When in doubt, ask for help. Moving an object that is too heavy for one person to lift safely is not worth strained and sore back muscles.
  3. Size up the area. Check the surroundings in which you will be handling the object. Make sure the area is clear of obstructions if you must carry the object any distance.
  4. Get a good grip. While lifting and carrying an object it becomes an extension of your body. You support and move the object. Your grip has to be firm and sure.
  5. Position your feet to set a good foundation. Good foot position allows you to keep your balance and use your powerful leg muscles. The larger muscles of your legs are much more powerful and durable than your relatively weaker back muscles. Let your leg muscles do the majority of the work — they can handle it.
  6. Keep the load close to your body. Think of your arms and the load as a pry bar. The further the load is from your body, the longer the bar and the more force it will place on your back. By keeping the load close to your body, you reduce the amount of stress placed on your lower back.
  7. Avoid twisting your upper body. Twisting compounds the stresses and forces of lifting and carrying an object. It affects your center of balance. Once you have established a good foundation with your feet, use them to change direction. This technique is especially important when moving an object a short distance, like from the floor to a conveyor line.
  8. Practice team lifting. Teamwork is critical when someone is helping you lift and carry a load. Both of you should discuss and decide, in advance, how you’re going to handle the load. Decide and check your route – make sure there are no obstructions. The person in the position to observe and direct the other should be the leader. Lifting, carrying, and lowering should be done in unison. Communicate with your lifting partner; let him or her know what’s happening. If you feel that your grip is slipping, warn your partner. Don’t let the load drop suddenly without warning your partner.

Everyone has a way of lifting that seems most natural. When we were toddlers, just learning to walk, we picked up objects very much like we’ve described here. As we mature and develop a little better sense of balance, we began to bend forward at the waist to pick up something. As we’ve noted here, lifting alters your balance. The lifting technique of the unsteady toddler is the safer way. Examine your lifting techniques to prevent injury to your back. Your personal health and safety is your responsibility. You are being counted on to perform your job safely. These techniques will help you to prevent injury:

Stay in good physical shape
Size up the load; ask for help
Get a good grip
Set a good foundation; position your feet for lifting
Use your powerful leg muscles
Keep the load close to your body
Maintain your balance
Avoid twisting your upper body