I know that I promised a blog post on accident investigation, but I have not finished it yet. Mental block.
I want to start this post with a rhetorical question – If you fall in an accident, what is the worst thing that can happen to you? I know that many of you will have an answer and there will be conflicting answers. Some of the financial people will argue that one outcome is financially devastating versus another outcome. Other will argue over the different types of injury that results from a fall. I have written previously, and will argue vehemently, that “You Never Fall Alone.”
But one thing is very clear, no matter what the outcome, once you fall you will never be the same again.
I want to share a story to demonstrate my argument. The names, places and times are changed to protect the guilty.
A few years ago, just before Memorial Day, I was visiting a job site in the Bronx. The first day I was there that week, I observed the foreman, Harold Wilson, climbing all over a deep excavation without any fall protection. Needless to say, I was pissed. I grabbed the safety person, Denise Howard, for the site and asked her why he was doing this and what was she going to do about it. I got the usual wimpy answer from her that she talked to him and he wasn’t paying attention to her. I approached Harold and tried to explain to him how much his falling would affect his family, etc., etc., etc.
Later that week, I visited the same job site again. And Harold was wearing his PFAS harness, but he was climbing all over the excavation without being tie-off. I looked at Denise and she just shrugged her shoulders. I stopped Harold and told him to tie-off. I called the Vice President of Operations and told him that I wanted to meet him at the site first thing, the next morning. I was livid.
The next morning, I arrived at the site about 8AM and I was met by the VP who said “Thank God, they got a hold of you. We had an accident. Harold Wilson fell and he was taken to the hospital.” My first thought was “Is he okay?”
To make a long story shorter, Harold fell 35 feet and landed on a set of steel concrete forms. He broke his pelvis in two places and his wrist. And he climbed out of the hole unaided. He was taken to a local hospital and I spent most of the day trying to ensure that nurse case managers and people were in place to ensure that Harold would be properly taken care of and, once stabilized, moved closer to his home and his pregnant wife in New Jersey.
Two and a half months later, Harold returned to work. When he got back, he was a changed man. Fall protection was something that he was very serious about. The job that he was assigned to had zero non-compliance for fall protection after he arrived. I asked him what changed him. He told me the following story.
“When I got to the hospital in Jersey, I was sent to rehab immediately. I was wheeled into the room on a stretcher and was waiting for the therapist to treat me. A very young and pretty woman asked me what I was. I told her that I fell and I was going into rehab. She said ‘Duh. Everybody here fell. What are you?’
I told her that I was a construction worker and I fell 35 feet onto concrete forms. She said, ‘No, not that. Are you a para, a quad or what?’ I had no idea what she was asking so I told her that I broke my pelvis in two places and my wrist.
She asked if I was paralyzed in any way. I told her, no the doctors said I should be back to work in about three months.
I asked her why she was here. She told me that she was a marathon runner, a wife and a mother of two small children – a two year old girl and a 3 month old baby boy. And she fell from a step stool while changing the light in her kitchen.
I asked her when she was going home. She told me that first she would be going to a rehab facility to learn how to get around the house. And she said that her house had to get modified.
I was a little unsure what she was talking about and I guess my face showed my confusion. She then said ‘Oh, I forgot to explain. I am a quadriplegic. I will never walk or use my arms again.’ As tears came down her face, she added that she would never be able to hold her children or hug her husband ever again.
Her fall was only four feet. And her life and the life of her family will never be the same again.”
Harold knows that he was extremely lucky and he knows that if he ever falls again he may not be that lucky. If you look at OSHA’s FATCAT statistics, you will see workplace fatalities every month. A large percentage of these fatalities are due to falls. And it doesn’t matter how far you fall or what shape you are in, sometimes the outcome is a matter of chance.
Again, if you fall and you are not tie off, what is the worst thing that can happen to you?
(c) John Burke, CSP. 2013.