When I started in this industry, I had a habit of not wearing the provided protective gear or using it properly. I was in management but spent a lot of time on the shop floor. Given that, I feel silly lecturing about safety. If only those who never did anything unsafe taught safety, we would have a severe shortage of safety consultants. Sometimes we learn things the hard way.

I recently went to see the ear doc about an issue I that I am having. I have noticed recently that I have trouble knowing where sound was originating. This makes finding the phone when it rings quite interesting. After a complete hearing test, I had my answer. Although I did not need a hearing aid, I had damage that reduced my hearing in certain frequency ranges. Plus I have some tinnitus: ringing in the ears. She asked about my history and identified the likely cause was my 20-plus years in a machine shop environment.

Back then, I could hear fine even though I did not wear ear protection. But it has caught up with me now and I think maybe I should have put more effort into wearing that protection. I had excuses, like the need to answer the phone frequently. We had expandable foam plugs, the type that you roll between your fingers and then put in your ear. There are better options today. Use that ear protection. Now, to avoid future problems.

My wife, Randy, and I are beekeepers. We have protective gear for tending the hives. I have learned to wear it consistently — probably because the penalty for not wearing it can be a swift sting. However, I do not always wear it properly or inspect it for damage or wear. This became evident two weeks ago. I had a couple of bees crawl up my pant leg and I got stung twice. For the first time, I had a reaction and had to take a couple Benadryls. I should have taped the bottom of my overalls to prevent bee incursion. But, even though this had happened before, I guess the hassle of taping was overruled because this did not happen a lot and the pain of a sting is short lived.

The next day, I got stung in the neck because a bee got inside my veil. I looked and the veil had multiple holes. The following day, I had another sting from a bee taking a stroll up my pant leg. Then I got stung twice when I reached for something and created a space between my glove and sleeve. I got light-headed and itchy. Shortly after going in the house, I could feel my tongue starting to swell. Off to the emergency room I went.

Since I seem to have developed an allergy to bee stings, I now tape my pant legs. I inspect my gear when I put it on. I stand back while Randy does the hive inspections. These are examples of work-related harms that happen when we do not give safety the attention it needs.

With the beekeeping incidents, my penalty was quick. My trip to the ER convinced me I now need to pay more attention to my protective gear.

OSHA demands that employers supply protective gear (PPE) when meeting OSHA standards requires it. Not only that, but employers also must instruct employees in when and how to wear PPE, and how to adjust it correctly and maintain it.

The penalty of not wearing hearing protection was not swift like a bee sting. It took over 25 years to develop. I liken it to smoking tobacco. I used to be a serious smoker. Even though I quit years ago, my penalty may yet be coming. My penalty for not wearing hearing protection is here and developing. Ask a smoker if they know smoking could kill them, and they will likely answer, “Yes.” Yet they continue. I did too, for years. Just like I ignored hearing protection.

This is where supervisors need to step in. OSHA demands that employers supply protective gear (PPE) when meeting OSHA standards requires it. Not only that, but employers also must instruct employees in when and how to wear PPE, and how to adjust it correctly and maintain it. Then, employers have to monitor PPE use. At our local grocery, a sign hung in the deli by the meat slicer tells employees to wear cut-resistant gloves. I have never seen anyone wear one. A sign is not enough. Enforcement is required.

As I wrote in a previous article, true safety falls to the employee. The adage says that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. It does not hold here because we can demand adherence to safety rules as a condition of employment. Wear that eye protection, wear those steel-toed shoes, wear that respirator, wear that hearing protection and wear that hard hat. Yes, all these things protect your employer from OSHA fines and from financial penalties in the event of a preventable accident. But, more importantly, they protect you.

The Driller has dedicated a lot of space to great safety related articles written by Brock Yordy, Dave Bowers and others who can tie safety to our industry. Has there been progress? I think so. I see more 10-fingered drillers than I used to 45 years ago. Take advantage of the digital format and make sure everyone in your company has access to The Driller. You can e-mail or message your employees articles that you want them to read. All it takes is a couple minutes of effort and you can integrate these articles into your safety plan and help prevent accidents.