Actually, On-The-Job Safety Is A Laughing Matter

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Actually, On-The-Job Safety Is A Laughing Matter

As a factory metalworker, I enjoy almost limitless opportunities to be maimed or killed. The Red River plant where I work has its own foundry, smelting plant, steel-forming works, welding line, pipe-bending assembly room, and dozens of other accumulations of heavy industrial equipment capable of removing fingers and heads. It's a good thing, then, that management makes the effort to post signs reminding us that "On-The-Job Safety Is No Laughing Matter!" Thanks for the heads-up, guys.

What the folks at corporate HQ don't seem to realize is that, for those of us who have to work with all this incredibly dangerous machinery every day, the idea of on-the-job safety is a laughing matter.

Let's set aside, for the moment, the obviously hilarious sight of watching a 12,000 RPM band-saw blade launch some idiot's fingers across the factory floor. Or the lifetime of Jesus impressions awaiting the poor slob who takes his eyes off the drill press for even a second. Miss your mark, and it's instant stigmata. But the funny thing about on-the-job safety is how the higher-ups act like its importance never crosses the minds of the actual on-the-job people.

Have you seen the signs? They're pretty funny, really. "WARNING! MOLTEN STEEL!" "DANGER! HIGH-SPEED BLADES!" "ATTENTION! HIGH-TEMPERATURE, HIGH-VOLTAGE WELDING TIP IN USE!" As if we weren't aware. Excuse me, but I'd been working here three seconds when I noticed the searing wall of heat coming off the vat of liquid steel, the insane shriek of the diamond-toothed bar-stock saw, and the eyelid-piercing white glare of the arc welder.

On the other hand, I'd been working here maybe a month before I noticed the safety signs. Couldn't afford to, really: Look away from the arc-welder tip for two seconds to read the warning on the manipulator arm, and you're a textbook case of workplace casualty. Usually an advanced medical textbook case, too.

Listen, I know what a pinch point between two gearwheels is. I know what acid does to a human hand. And I know what happens if I get caught in a 440-amp electrical arc. The last thing I need is a sign reminding me about it every time I turn around. I've seen guys get their hands caught in the spot-welding jig, and it wasn't pretty. When Jorge lost his arm in the snipper, it wasn't for lack of a huge, day-glo sign reminding him to "Take Care!!!" There's a kind of callous, premeditated malice to those signs that's just plain laughable. If you're laughing in a high-pitched, sanity-eroding kind of way, that is.

The slogans are hilarious: "No Job Is Too Small For Safety At All!" I got a good chuckle out of that one, especially when they put it on the sheet-steel roller mill, a machine that squeezed Bob Atherton's left arm like a zit until his fingers popped off. "Skip That Beer... We Need You Here!" is another good one. First of all, no one who wants to keep their bones on the inside will be operating the high-speed metal lathe drunk. Second, if someone does slip and put a two-inch dovetail joint in his forehead, anyone who witnesses it is going to need something a hell of a lot stronger than beer to erase the image.

And let's not even get into the filmstrips and lectures. Sheer comedy. Anyone who's been here at Red River for a while has seen a lot of stuff they'll never put in the films, like the difficulty of cleaning off the blood stalactites you get on the ceiling over the carborundum saw when something goes a little squirrelly. And the lectures are always given by "safety experts" with fancy college degrees–not to mention intact sets of fingers and toes. I suspect they're the same guys who, at the end of the year, have all kinds of laugh-out-loud reasons why trip guards and face shields can't be installed on the forge press.

Yeah, on-the-job safety is a laughing matter, all right. It's a big fucking joke.