Safety First

Greetings all, Henry here today, once again filling in for my son Stephen. Stephen injured himself at the gym and has since given his time over completely to trying to score sympathy from his girlfriend. He reports some limited success.

Out walking this morning I was struck again how important safety is for all of us. As I came by, work crews were cutting down unneeded tree branches and throwing them into one of those chipper machines, which chews up the branch and shoots the chips into a truck. I have always thought those could be very dangerous.

It reminded me that most work is dangerous. Even the relatively sedentary work of the computer ‘geek’ can lead to trouble. In the bad old days, we had to watch out for predators and natural dangers, but apparently our bodies were not designed to sit staring at a screen hours on end either. Carpel tunnel, back and neck problems, eternal headaches and eye strain are some of the most common complaints.

Everything we humans have devised seems to have its down side. I grew up on a farm which statistically is supposed to be the most dangerous place to work. I had an uncle who was killed by a horse, and all of us suffered an assortment of “misfortunes.”

My father was the most accident prone among us. I am reminded of the time when he was nearly killed by the tractor. That is an easy thing to do as, like the computer in our modern jobs, the tractor is essential to farm work. My father was a very imaginative problem solver, but perhaps not the most careful person and sometimes his solving a problem left a worse one in its place.

We had a fertilizer spreader that had been transformed from a two-horse machine to one that could be pulled by a tractor. Although he never had his own t.v. show, my father was the McGyver of our community. He was always adapting one thing into another thing, which only he knew how to use. When he died I inherited his tools, many of which looked remarkably like bent pieces of metal, though they no doubt had an important function for him.

My father was having trouble with the tractor. His seat kept breaking and falling off. He had it welded on twice before he finally gave up. As a man in his advanced 70’s, perhaps he felt he didn’t have endless time to “get things done.”

His solution was to put an apple box over the stump of the seat, cover it with a couple of sheep pelts and an old sheep coat. (Safety-conscious readers will already have noticed a problem with this plan.) Piled high, he was the king of the field…except one day when he started out to spread fertilizer. When he got to the end of the field and prepared to turn, he reached back to pull on the rope attached to the leaver to turn off the fertilizer (another of his adjustments). That was when disaster struck.

The apple box in which he had so much faith slipped and he went over the back of the tractor, falling between the tractor and the fertilizer spreader. He was dressed very heavily and instead of being crushed was rolled along to the end of the field, through the fence and down through the ditch. Thankfully the tractor stalled trying to drag the sower up out of the ditch. My mother was surprised to see him driving down the road with the loaded fertilizer sower. He had to confess his stupidity and near disaster. Finally, shortly afterwards the seat was permanently fixed. Sometimes my father’s imaginative shortcuts worked brilliantly, but this was clearly not one of those times.

This is a bizarre tale of a bizarre incident, but I tell it because we all become accustomed to danger, devise shortcuts to save time and in the long run put ourselves in danger, straining ourselves at work, taking chances on the road, taking the subway, etc. I’m afraid this is a family trait, as my son Stephen recently maimed himself at the gym trying to save time, avoiding the practical reality. I am sure that there are a lot of computer ‘geeks’ out there who are working in much less than optimum conditions and are suffering because of it, or at least are beginning to get the first symptom of an angry body that needs some relief.

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