Safety = Un-Common Sense

Safety signs are a commonplace in business and industrial settings where some aspects of the work are dangerous or risky to some degree.  This could range from slipping on a wet floor to losing a limb (or two) in machinery.  Signs attempt to warn workers about the potential hazards, and are quite wide-ranging in their ability to cover the waterfront of possible issues.

Educational signs do their best to inform workers, but it’s a known fact of human nature:  Nobody reads signs!  Or instructions, or labels, or the Bible, for that matter.  Signs are designed to catch the eye with bright colors and pithy slogans (“Think Safety,” “Think Safety First”), but unfortunately, they fall down on the job as truly preventative measures.    (I do vividly remember a poster from grade school depicting a little boy, horrified look on his face, flying through the air at the observer having been struck from behind by an oncoming car.  He was walking with the traffic, not against it as recommended.  Now notice how many people of all ages do that, cross arterial streets in traffiic with baby strollers, walk at night in black clothing, or ride bikes like traffic rules don’t apply to them…)  It really comes down to this:  You are responsible for your own safe work practices, signs or no signs.

And no signs is pretty much the case in the home and shop, where the same kinds of debilitating and horrific accidents occur as in your worst case OSHA-be-damned coal mine or Chinese sweat shop.  I’m talking about crushing, maiming, falling, shocking, puncturing, tripping, lacerating, ripping and tearing of perfectly good body parts that, unlike salamanders, skinks and sea stars (say that five times fast) don’t grow back.  Oh, wounds might heal, but flesh-eating bacteria might get there first, so, why take the chance?

The best defense is a good offense (Vince Lombardi?), so instead of relying on signs and posters, make a commitment to yourself to look out for number one, and protect everybody around you in the process.  Another sad fact of life:   would-be rescuers who rush in to help an injured or trapped person in a dire circumstance more often than not end up fatalities, burning to death or asphyxiating in the same situation the victim ended up in.  First responders (whose job is to show up for work in a dangerous situation) are trained to “protect yourself first.”  What good are additional preventable injuries or deaths?  You are not invincible; you are totally vincible.

So, how to develop this Un-common Sense of Safety?  Awareness of hazards in the shop and home is a logical starting point, and I’m not talking about putting up a bunch of home-made signs all over the place (nobody reads them, remember?)  Make an inventory.  Take the time to look for and imagine unsafe conditions, practices and equipment present or possible in your work area.  There are myriad opportunities for mistakes and mishaps in the simplest environments, not to mention one where a multitude of power tools are in use, each one capable of inflicting its own brand of death and destruction.  And it could literally be a brand if you accidentally sear your flesh with a soldering iron or propane torch!  Cedar wood smells great when burned; epidermis – not so much.  Start your inventory with a list of general hazards, real or potential, then look at the real world in which you work and hobby to find and note the lurking dangers around you.

Let’s just summarize the potential problems you might look for and find, although the lists are not exhaustive, and there is some overlap:


  • Frayed, cut or torn electrical cords
  • Loose wires
  • Poor lighting
  • Overloaded plugs/circuits
  • Water on the floor
  • Extension cord usage
  • Wires under foot
  • Damaged outlets
  • Dust in motors


  • Missing or broken guards
  • Exposed moving parts
  • Rotating parts
  • Inaccessible power switch
  • Movement after being turned off
  • Noise
  • Pinch rollers
  • Uneven floor or support
  • Jerry-built or jury-rigged equipment
  • Confined (tight or cramped) spaces
  • Heavy parts


  • Trigger safeties broken or removed
  • High heat
  • Loose parts
  • Direction of exhaust ports
  • High air pressure
  • Noise
  • Trigger locks
  • Fumes and particulates
  • Downward cutting
  • Moving work into tool
  • Pulling tool towards body parts

Sharp Stuff

  • Blade changing practice
  • Handling and storage
  • Securing the workpiece
  • Visual impairment at speed (blurring)
  • Proximity to digits and limbs
  • Direction of cutting or slicing force
  • Posture
  • Guards and exposed edges

Eye Protection

  • Flying chips, sawdust, turnings and grinder debris
  • Paint mist
  • UV radiation
  • Poke in the eye with a sharp stick, screwdriver or pencil
  • Eye glasses
  • Fatigue
  • Exhaust ports and air pressure

Hearing Protection

  • Impact sounds
  • High decibel sound
  • Saw and router operations
  • Compressor noise
  • Rotary and multitool operation
  • Grinding

Respiratory Protection

  • Fumes, mists, particulates, fibers
  • Carbon monoxide


  • Cold
  • Hot
  • Cramped
  • Crowded
  • Cluttered
  • Slip, trip and fall hazards
  • Head hazards
  • Chemicals
  • Heater
  • Ventilation
  • Weather
  • Dust and debris


  • Radio
  • Headphones
  • Telephone
  • Television
  • Children
  • Other workers
  • Spouse
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Worries
  • The Big Game
  • Barking dogs

When the inventory is complete, review it enough to familiarize yourself with each of the items posing a potential risk to your health and safety.  Then, invest in some personal protection equipment (PPE), fix broken cords, add extra lighting, reorganize cramped spaces, buy a fire extinguisher, install a dust collector, clean the wood stove chimney, wear gloves when handling sharp blades, be rested, relaxed and “in the moment” when operating tools.  Cultivate spatial awareness:  what is behind you, underfoot, overhead, to the right, to the left?  Concentrate on the task at hand having planned it out thoroughly beforehand.  Work as distraction free as possible.  Do all the other stuff on your list that gives you the Un-common Sense of Safety because you made it part of who you are and what you do.  Do it for yourself, do it for your family and do it today.

Or you could GMO with a skink…


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