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Backyard Safety

By Randy K. Logsdon

The conversation started with my facetious question: “Did you complete a hot work permit for that?”

There was just a small group standing around in the backyard of the host who had just ignited the lighter fluid-soaked charcoal in his barbeque grill. Fortunately, the host is a good-natured sort and knew me well enough to recognize my question as simply a conversation starter.

So as we watched and waited for the flames to subside, we nursed a couple of beers and embarked on a backyard safety conversation. My host is a mine mechanic who must apply the safety protocols that folks in my department (including me) produce to advance the likelihood that he and his coworkers will complete their daily tasks without incident. He expressed a keen understanding of the need for such rules and regulations but also reported that he had observed that some folks find limited value in some of those protections under certain conditions.

I was not surprised at his remarks and responded that change, particularly significant change, is often difficult for some to accept. It can add steps, slow the process and add cost, especially if the infrastructure has not caught up with the demands of the policy. So when no one is looking, and the risk is minimal, old habits may prevail.

We discussed several examples that led to a realization of just how mining has changed over the last 20 to 30 years as a consequence of improved safety engineering and procedures. We agreed that over an extended period, that steady application of small changes – raising the bar in small increments has produced a profound effect. We reminisced about methods that were once accepted but would no longer even consider.

The flames were receding and the beers were getting warm when my host observed, for my benefit, that those safety procedures and expectations, though difficult at times, are a compliance responsibility that rests with the miners. So long as management demands and supports their application, there is no reason not to comply.

However, my host then redirected the conversation to safety at home.

At work, he observed, we have resources necessary to comply with these safety rules. He then called my attention to his metal shed and workshop. He related his concern when he needed to install a vent pipe in the roof. Where is the anchor point? He reported that he had no means available to secure the ladder and even admitted that it only extended a couple feet above the top edge.

I did not have a good answer for those concerns. We are generally blessed at work with the necessary resources to enhance our safety. Someone in the front office worries about the cost of providing the right tools and equipment.

At home, one will personally engage in a cost-benefit analysis when procuring those same tools and equipment. If in that analysis cost outweighs the perceived benefit, then that safety measure may be compromised and the home project practitioner will be at greater risk.

A quick search of a major box store’s website reveals that one can purchase from a selection of 19 8-ft. step ladders for as little as $94.00 to as much as $452.52. Purchasing new affords one the opportunity to get the proper size, style, components and capacity for the user.

Miners contemplating a home project likely have a family, mortgage and truck payment that weigh into the cost-benefit analysis. Chances are they are doing the project at home themselves to control costs. Will they spend the $100 or more for a new ladder – even if they might use it again sometime? Or will they try to borrow a ladder (in what condition), pick up a used ladder at a garage sale (again, in what condition) or devise some other (uncertified) means of ascending? (I do not recommend mounting a step ladder in the bed of a pickup truck.)

Many mining companies provide employees the opportunity to use company provided PPE for home use. This policy normally includes disposable respirators, ear plugs and the like (provided that the policy is not abused).

I just wonder if an extension of that policy – one that would permit personnel to check-out and return more robust equipment for home use might be beneficial. Just a thought.