I have a general rule that anything called a widowmaker should be given some respect. I would consider a widowmaker to be the UR of my HURT acronym for Causes of Injuries … an “Unware or Unaddressed Hazard” and “Respect for tool, process & environment”. For a forestry worker a widowmaker is a branch of a tree that remains suspended by other trees. The reason this is so dangerous is you simply don’t know when the suspended tree may fall and often it happens to an unsuspecting forester. According to Wikipedia and the American Society of Agricultural Engineers widowmakers are responsible for 11% of fatal chainsaw injuries.
The following story is an example from the spring of 2008 where I was committing more than one safety infraction at a time. Our house in Regina had a number of spruce trees in the front yard. In fact, there were seven of them all exceeding 40 feet in height. One of the trees was more to the center of the yard and was actually quite healthy and large. The other six were squished together on the edge of our property with only a couple of feet separating them. The tall crowded, gangly looking trees were really more of an eye sore than anything. Once I decided to remove them I thought I might as well get rid of all the evergreens in our front yard.
Growing up I had helped my Dad harvest many trees for his wood stove so I called my parents up and they came into Regina to give me a hand taking these trees down. At one of our previous houses I hired out the removal of some spruce trees and knew you could make the tree limbs into a ladder to scale the tree then topple the top of the tree. We used ropes to ensure the trees fell the way we wanted them to. When I was up in the tree I didn’t actually use a chainsaw, but rather a swiss saw since I felt safer with my precarious positioning. Precarious because I had no fall protection while working at that height … hmm … what could result from falling out of a 40 foot tree?
The middle tree came down without issue then we moved on to the gaudy looking trees that were creating all this work. I needed to use a ladder at the base since the branches weren’t significant enough to hold my weight. Once I got to a certain height I was again able to scale the tree. The first tree came down without incident. I descended as we took section after section of the tree down. Each of the sections would be about 8 feet in length and weighed between 150 to 200 pounds.
True to my previous disposition of “Cutting Corners”, descending and ascending the trees seemed to be extra steps that weren’t required to the process, so after the first tree was down I simply moved from one tree to the next at about the 30’ mark. Once I changed trees the first time subsequent transgressions were much easier to make. I know this is likely a move most of you wouldn’t make, but take a look inward here. Are there tasks you are carrying out that you once considered very dangerous, but now refer to as part of the job? Could these tasks be carried out in another manner that isn’t nearly as dangerous?
Back to the widowmaker … After cutting one of the tree tops it got held up between two of the other trees. Due to my location and inability to secure a rope on the branch we continued onto the next tree, leaving the branch suspended. We had a lot of work to do and thought we would worry about the suspended branch once I worked my way over to its location. While cutting on the next tree one of the branches snapped back up towards me. I didn’t really know what happened, but it was odd to have a branch shooting upward.
When I looked down my Dad was laying face down on the ground underneath the widowmaker.
I yelled down to Dad, “Are you okay?”
He responded an unconvincing “Yeah” as he began to get up.
I inquired, “What happened?”
“Ah … The branch that was caught in the tree fell and hit me in the head and shoulder”, he said as he slowly rubbed his neck and shoulder.
My Dad’s a pretty tough guy, but I needed to come down the tree to do my own assessment. My Dad was fortunate that it was a glancing blow, but just the same it hurt quite a bit and was certainly preventable.
I know some of you are thinking “Man, you’re dangerous … no wonder you eventually got hurt.” The fact is Saskatchewan has twice the hospitalization rate as the rest of Canada so I know my previous lack of safety habits and safety awareness is very common for a lot of people reading this blog. Hindsight provides perfect vision of the impact of a decision … we have to empower that hindsight to become foresight which will assist in future decisions. I hope that by sharing some of my hindsight you will have a chance to reflect your own actions and feel empowered to make a positive change for the sake of your safety and well-being. Do you have a similar story? Can your hindsight provide insight for some of your co-workers?
As a speaker I have the privilege to meet a lot of fascinating people who often take the opportunity to come up and tell me some of their stories. I recently delivered my “Power of Regret” presentation and one of the gentlemen in the crowd came up and told me a story about adaptation. Adaptation is often required when responding to an injury or deep regrets.
He told me the story of his dog who had suffered an injury that resulted in the loss of his rear leg. Of course the dog adapted quite well and ran around on three legs, but one thing he noticed was the dog fell flat on his face when he passed his favorite shrub. Intrigued by what was happening with the dog he watched closely to see what was causing his difficulties. In the past the dog had always peed on this little shrub, but when he went to lift his leg he would end up doing a nose dive and fall on his face. The problem was he kept lifting the leg he was standing on. This pattern persisted for days and became an amusement for his owner as he watched his dog struggling to adapt to his new reality.
After continuing to fall on his face day after day, the dog finally decided to approach the shrub from the other side. With the amputated leg already out of the way the dog was once again able to pee on the shrub. Although more difficult at first, the process became even easier than before his injury since he didn’t even have to lift his leg. I suppose you could say the moral of the story is if you keep falling on your face when you’re peeing, lift the other leg. I think the stronger message is adaptation is natural and even if you fall flat on your face, don’t give up … the shrub is counting on you
I’ll start off by saying I don’t travel nearly as much as many of my clients. I have only travelled 2,000 km inside of a week on a couple of occasions. If you’re not battling fatigue or weather issues, travel is not usually that difficult. This week, the weather has made travel extremely treacherous. I haven’t heard of any fatalities over the last couple of days with the crazy spring blizzard we are experiencing, but I have talked with a couple folks who felt like they dodged a serious collision. When a Saskatchewan blizzard blows in it can be nasty!
Even though they can predict likely outcomes of the weather it often doesn’t mesh with our schedule or agenda. I drove up to Lloydminster on Tuesday afternoon/evening to speak for a client first thing Wednesday morning. The drive up was fabulously calm and sunny, just an all-around great day for travel. It was the last day of winter, and the evening was nice and long with sunlight past 7:30, which seems somewhat odd with so much snow on the ground.
Wednesday morning arrived, I spoke for Husky Energy at the Upgrader then left Lloydminster to get to an afternoon speaking engagement in Unity. Many of the folks at the Sifto Salt Plant were curious about my drive, but it was fairly uneventful. By mid-afternoon the wind turned the country side into blizzard conditions and chaos. The roads became completely impassable with huge snow banks covering many of the roadways in central Saskatchewan.
The police closed many highways, but a number of people decided their timeline and destination trump the road conditions. I have decided to sit here stranded in Unity Saskatchewan waiting for the weather to clear. I had many conversations with other travellers and stranded workers today, but the winds only let up long enough to see the roads were still impassable. I’m hoping tomorrow is a better day and I can head on down the road, but we’ll have to wait and see since there is snowfall in the forecast.
Whether you’re driving for work or personal reasons it makes sense to pay attention to the weather forecasts and road conditions. I have stated on numerous occasions that the most dangerous activity that people perform with great regularity is driving a vehicle. According to the US Bureau of Labor over 38% of workplace fatalities are a result of occupational transportation incidents.
Have you driven when it wasn’t safe to do so? Were there other alternatives to that travel? Would you say you put a greater priority on your agenda than on your safety?
One of the reasons I like living in Regina is it only takes me about 10 minutes to get to work each morning. In that 10 minute drive I have noticed at least 4 or 5 vehicles that have damaged side mirrors. It’s not the latest winter fad, but it’s happening because the streets have a large amount of snow on the sides and the cars that park on the street are further into the street than usual. As people are driving by their mirrors must be clipping the mirror of the parked cars.
My guess is this smashed mirror syndrome is annoying for both vehicles involved. Who is at fault? Well, if I recall correctly it is not usually the stationary vehicle. Are they somewhat responsible? Sure, they should be off the road as far as possible. If you’re the vehicle moving down the road you the onus is on you to ensure you’re not hitting other vehicles or stationary objects. Though these aren’t major collisions I think we could refer to them as “close calls” or “near misses”. Most of them occur when we are not “in the moment” or not addressing hazards.
I will attempt to compare this to working in hazardous situations. We’re just driving down the road, we aren’t concerned because fear of the situation has been replaced by complacency. We’re certainly not worried about our own mirror (tasks that we complete daily) and the mirror we see approaching (circumstance) doesn’t pose any threat. It’s when we push the limits and try to adjust for the oncoming vehicle (tasks or deadlines) that we lose focus of the hazards.
Has your mirror been shattered? Have you corrected that complacency? Have you been playing so close to the edge you forgot about the dangers that exist? You may be able to pick-up a mirror at automobile salvage, you won’t be so fortunate for other body parts.
It has been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I think the metric safety equivalent might be a gram of safety prevention avoids a pile of HURT. HURT is an acronym I created a couple years ago that defines the most common causes of preventable injuries.
Causes of Preventable Injuries
H – Hurried Decision or Action
U – Unknown or Unaddressed Hazard
R – Respect for Self, Tools, Process & Environment
T – Tool Selection or Usage
If you can simply remember HURT you likely won’t have to experience it. If you’re neglecting any one of these four elements you can be susceptible to injury. When you neglect more than one you’re likely going to end up HURT.
Hurried Decision or Action – Sometimes we do things without appropriate consideration to the impact of the decision. We decide the speed of the decision or activity outweighs the importance of the safety that would generally be present. The big decisions in life have us deep in thought, but often it’s the small hurried decisions that have a profound negative impact.
Unknown or Unaddressed Hazard – As a young worker or someone new to a trade or process there may be things that are unknown to us. One of the responsibilities of a supervisor is to ensure the unknowns are taken care of, usually through training. If you are a young worker ensure you are comfortable with a task before you take it on. Remember you have the right to refuse unsafe work.
Unaddressed hazards are really a by-product of laziness. Thinking you can get away with not doing something you know is part of the required steps. This has an element of complacency and an element of avoidance … not good building blocks for a long injury free life. Addressing hazards also includes a communication aspect so others are made aware of the hazard.
Respect for Self, Tool, Process & Environment – If you find yourself willing to sacrifice your body so that some object doesn’t get damaged, perhaps you haven’t investigated all the options or thoroughly thought out the cost of your action. I have had numerous people ask me after a presentation “Do you think [this activity] is dangerous?”; if you find yourself asking this question, it likely is dangerous and there is likely a better way to carry out your current action. Respect for tools or equipment boils down to proper usage and adherence to safety standards. Respect for process means you shouldn’t be looking for how to cut corners to save time if it results in a safety risk. Respect for environment may again be expanded to include complacency in environments that have hazards we need to be aware of.
Tool Selection or Usage – Sometimes a crescent wrench isn’t the right tool. Sometimes we endeavor to use equipment that is nearby instead of what’s safe. Then there are other times we are using the right tool, but we are not using it in a safe manner.
In the case of my injury, I was guilty of transgressions regarding each one of these elements which resulted in a whole pile of HURT. Analyze some of the injuries or the close calls you’ve had … do they fit into one of these four causes? Is there a specific area that you more commonly fail on? What can you do to bring yourself into correction? How can you avoid getting HURT?
© Duane Janiskevich 2013
There has been a lot of snow in Regina this year and I’m sure the snow clearing budget was used up long ago. Apparently the record snowfall we had in November alone was more than all snowfall from last winter. I heard yesterday that they are clearing streets 20 hours a day, 7 days a week to try and catch up. What gets me is the guy that complains about the snow clearing while he’s sitting on his couch and there are so many people braving the cold weather and working hard to make the city run smoothly. This much snow has been viewed as “white gold” to companies dedicated to clean it up, but certainly a very onerous task for a city the size of Regina.
Many people are critical of the effort the city is taking to clear the snow, but I think they’ve done a fabulous job. The problem is; it’s a lot of snow! During these long days and even later nights the city crews are working hard to get everything cleared off. I think it can be compared to a farmer at harvest time. Kinda like making hay while the sun is shinin’, it’s work that needs to get done. It seems like an unfathomable amount of work with very tight deadline and possibly even more snow on the way. The problem is with all this effort and long hours, physical and cognitive fatigue set in. When you experience cognitive fatigue you aren’t thinking clearly or thinking about the consequences of your actions. It’s at that time we take unwarranted risks.
Are you working with the “pedal to the metal” and “burning the candle at both ends”? Are your “aware of” or “oblivious to” the hazards this approach may pose? Step back and assess your situation. Some people argue, “I don’t have time to do that!” I would counter, you can’t afford not to. I’m not saying everyone has to fit within the 40 hour work week (wouldn’t that be nice), but I am saying don’t let your passion to complete a task cloud your judgement when your safety is at risk. Well, it’s time for me to quit blogging I’ve got to get outside and shovel the sidewalk.
It’s the dawn of a brand new year! How is 2013 going to be different than 2012? How will you choose to impact those around you? As a motivational and safety speaker I have an awesome opportunity to impact people in a positive way. Other than raising my kids, speaking is the most rewarding opportunity that I’ve ever had.
I revel in the fact my blood type is B Positive, because I enjoy being positive. I feel a positive attitude and gratefulness are attributes that reach far beyond what our minds comprehend.
Christmas is often seen as a season of giving. I’d like to take a few moments to encourage you to carry over the spirit of giving to 2013. On January 5, 2013 I reached a milestone in my giving, it marks my 50th whole blood donation. It may seem like a lofty number, but if I donated each time I was eligible (every 56 days) it would’ve taken me less than 9 years to get to 50 donations.
I started donating blood when I was at the Saskatchewan Technical Institute in 1985 (you must be 17 years old to donate). I wasn’t aware that first positive experience would grow into a life-long commitment. Donating blood is very easy to do yet it is a gift that can actually save someone’s life. Every minute of every day, someone in Canada is in need of blood. I experience a euphoric feeling each time I donate since I know that I helped someone, even though I never really know who that someone is. It’s truly anonymous, but so powerful.
When my injury occurred in 2008 I recall being very concerned that I may need blood products since I donated blood earlier in the week. I didn’t require a transfusion since a donation is roughly 450 ml and we have nearly 5 litres of blood in our system. I have been very fortunate and have never needed blood products, but know a number of people who have. For those who need the blood products it is truly life-giving.
The truth is that just one automobile collision or 10 cancer treatments could consume my life total of donations. I honestly feel I haven’t given enough. Perhaps this article will encourage you to donate blood. For more information give Canadian Blood Services a call at 1-888 2 Donate (1 888 236 6283). After all, it’s in you to give.
For my US visitors, please visit one of America’s Blood Centers.
I’ve talked about perspective in the past, because I believe it is absolutely vital to gain perspective when you’re enduring a hardship. My injury occurred near the end of November. It’s around the time you start to receive Christmas cards. The Christmas of 2008 produced a record number of cards because I had many people wishing me well and wanting to let me know they were thinking about me and many of them praying for me. I felt good to have so much support, but there were still many opportunities for me to feel sorry for myself while I was enduring the pain of my injury and knowing some things would never be the same.
One day I remember opening a Christmas card and along with the Christmas greeting they encouraged me to heal up soon. The thoughts were impacting, but the card itself impacted me even more. In the days of texting and email selecting an appropriate card is almost a lost art form. I remember spending many hours on numerous occasions in the card store trying to find a card expressing the right words. The odd thing is I can’t recall the words to this card … the impact was in the painting displayed on the card. In fact, I was intrigued enough that I turned the card over to see who the artist was. It was painted by a “Mouth & Foot Painting Artist”. I was in awe; in fact I was almost ashamed of my wallowing. I quickly gathered up my other Christmas cards and realized how many of the cards had been painted by “Mouth & Foot Painting Artists”. All I could do was sit back and marvel at how I was being blessed by someone who had likely endured a much greater hardship than I had, someone without the use of their hands.
This was a huge perspective boost. My left hand was perfectly fine, but I was so focused on how damaged my right hand was. At that point in time it was like I moved my hand from right in front of my face and changed my focus to what lay beyond the impact of the injury. I began to see past the injury. I began to see all the things I could do instead of being so focused on what I couldn’t do. The encouragement came from some extremely determined and talented artists who refused to give-up and were producing wonderful art that became a blessing for me.
Are there times when you can’t see the forest for all of the trees? Are you too busy overlooking your abilities so you can focus on weaknesses or inabilities? Here’s a classic for you … Are you making a mountain out of a mole hill? Are your problems really as big or all-encompassing as you feel? Take some time to analyze your problems and weigh them against the challenges of people less fortunate than you. Now move past those doubts and fears and begin to focus on your abilities you may be surprised at your own resiliency.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
I’ve delivered my STOP Cutting Corners! presentation to many organizations who are focused on safety. After analyzing my message I realized there was a psychological story I was telling about Regret. In order to give that message greater creedence I’ve created another keynote presentation entitled “Unleashing the Power of Regret”.
Many people have stated that we have to live life without regrets. Most often that really means we should pursue the things we value in life. Unfortunately that mindset has people running away from regrets before they’ve taken the time to analyze them. Do you have regrets in your life? at work? on your projects?
Regret is such a powerful tool, yet everyone wants to bury it. People need to live in the present, but using what we’ve learned from our past will empower our future. If we fail to do so, we are likely to repeat the same mistakes or fail to capitalize on opportunities similar to the ones we’ve already missed. Regrets are a positive thing in our life since they are an indication that we are reflecting on the impacts of our decisions and often contemplating another recourse.
I have regrets. Throughout this blog I’ve shared one of my deepest regrets that had catastrophic results. Using a familiar tool incorrectly resulted in the amputation of 3 fingers and my thumb on my dominant hand. I have used this regret as fuel to raise awareness of other unsafe actions and to help others prevent injuries and encourage them to overcome adversity.
During the “Unleashing the Power of Regret” presentation I:
- Encourage the behavior of addressing regrets rather than burying them
- Provide understanding that regrets hold positive value
- Provide tools to help attendees analyze regrets and identify beneficial outcomes
Once I deliver a presentation I take time to reflect on it and use the regrets as an opportunity to improve my next presentation. I go so far as to videotape each presentation and review the footage to focus on mistakes I didn’t notice the first time through. You see, regret shouldn’t be a reason for defeated living, but rather an opportunity for future success. My last presentation was in Regina, SK at the South Saskatchewan Chapter of the Project Management Institute’s – 2012 Professional Development Conference on November 14, 2012. I felt privileged to encourage about 130 people to see regrets as instructive and empowering. Regret shouldn’t feel like a chain binding you, but rather a chain that can be used to free someone else if your bold enough to share it in a positive way.
Yeah, I’ve got regrets, but I’m excited about what I’ve learned and the promise the future holds!
Do you have regrets? Have you addressed them or buried them? Write down your top 5 regrets, have you learned all you can from them? How can they help influence your future in a positive way? Can your regret help someone else? I’d like to encourage you to own your regret and transform failure into opportunity!
One of the things an injury can do is cause you to look at the minor little details that you may not have taken time to notice in the past. With a hand injury one of these little details is the fingerprint. I still find it amazing that our fingerprints have such uniquely identifiable characteristics. The three basic designs of the fingerprint are the loop, whorl and arch.
If we stopped there I think you would have missed a very vital function of your fingerprint. All those tiny ridges and crevices create something called … grip. This may seem obvious to you, but I can tell you it is something that you have likely taken for granted your entire life. A burn victim or someone with severe hand scarring would be able to corroborate the fact that fingerprints are like fabulous little grippers on the ends of each of our little intricate tentacles called fingers.
A little research lead me to an interesting article proving the grip theory and also that the fingerprint aids in the sensation of touch. Some articles even refer to the ridges as friction ridges. Of course you have your detractors such as Dr. Jon Barnes and his team of scientists who “proudly” determined scientifically that grip is not increased by fingerprints. This research proves the theory that you can’t believe everything you read. Perhaps one of the tests they could’ve tried would be to sand off the fingerprints of his students to see if they could hold the container rather than the scientific friction meter they employed. After having fingerprints on my pointer finger for most of my life I can say that fingerprints provide much more grip than the relatively smooth scar tissue I have now.
My right hand is my dominant hand and even though it isn’t as high functioning as my perfectly normal left hand I often use it because I trained myself to do so for 41 years. When I first started grabbing things with my right hand I couldn’t believe how poor my grip was. Of course there was the issue of rehabilitation and gaining strength in my hand, but I was amazed at how significant the fingerprint was for grip. To accentuate my lack of grip even more the only finger that doesn’t have a fingerprint is my pointer finger which is about an inch shorter than it should be. I sort of joke that my hand no longer meets OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) specifications.
This wasn’t the first damage the pointer finger on my right hand endured. At the age of six I was attempting to duplicate a bar room fight that I’d seen on Gunsmoke. The robbers grabbed a bottle and smashed it on the table to use it as a weapon. The neck of the bottle appeared to work quite well to have something to hold on to while performing the stunt. My attempt wasn’t quite as smooth as the Hollywood approach. I took the bottle and smashed it on a piece of concrete. I didn’t account for the fact the neck of the bottle could break. As the neck broke my pointer finger was sliced nearly to the bone just above my top knuckle. The bleeding and throbbing began immediately as I realized this was far beyond what a band-aid could cover up. I ran home with my left hand grasping my right for fear I could lose the top of my finger.
The whole ordeal resulted in six stitches (one for each year of my short life to that point) and a new appreciation for Hollywood stuntmen. I was also left with a reminder of the injury with a ¾ inch scar across the tip of my finger.
Fast forwarding 35 years that finger tip lay beneath my table saw and it even got to come along with me to the hospital in a zip-loc bag. The top inch of my finger was literally blown off by the piece of wood. I was hopeful that they would reattach the finger, but remember it being in very rough shape and the Doctor reassuring me he would not be attaching the damaged digit. I’m not sure if I had 41 stitches, but there was a lot of repair work required.
Bringing the finger tip to the hospital was important since the Doctor was able to harvest the skin and some flesh from the original tip to the new, slightly shorter location. After the skin graft healed up you can still actually see some of the original fingerprint, but one thing that puzzled me for months was this additional scar that goes right through the middle of the grafted area. I was puzzled since I knew there was no stitching through the middle of my new fingertip then I realized this was the scar from the broken bottle when I was six years old.
Look at your fingerprints. Do they have a story to tell? One thing I can say with confidence is we are very wonderfully made even down to the detail of identification and the grip of our fingerprints.