I grew up in West Virginia known for its coal mines. Accidents at coal mines were a fact of life, but I noticed personally working as a paramedic during those days, and had also read in various accident studies, that the majority of fatal accidents occurred to two distinct populations most of the time inside a coal mine: the very new employee and the very experienced employee that was near retirement.
The new employees were susceptible to accidents. Coal mines are dangerous places with a large amount of safety rules to learn and follow. New employees would sometimes forget those rules or not take them too seriously with fatal results.
What surprised me were the older and more experienced employees being involved in these types of accidents. It was found out that complacency played a large role in that. Men closer to retirement had gotten to the point that they thought they knew it all and didn’t have to be as careful as the new guys.
My father worked nearby at a large power plant that could be an unsafe place if you didn’t follow the safety rules. He had seen 3 or 4 men get killed because of safety lapses during his 35 plus years there. When he chose to retire early, I asked him why. He said, “I don’t want to be carried out feet first from work someday on a stretcher.” He knew that complacency was sneaking up on him and thought it was time to leave.
When I started at KSC, it was the first time I had worked in an industrial setting and I found that I spent more time in safety classes than all my other classes combined. With all the dangerous propellants there such as Mono Methyl Hydrazine (2 breaths, 2 steps, you’re dead.), large equipment, heights, etc., there, you had to know quite a bit about safety.
But KSC took it further. It was ingrained in their culture, and a normal farewell saying done by everyone was, “Be safe.” We had safety meetings, daily safety tips, safety emails, constant safety classes, and on and on. You could bring an entire job to a skidding stop by just saying, “I have a safety concern.” My old manager, Jay Barati, told me once that each day that everyone finishes their shift and goes home to their families is a good day.
I kidded with a co-worker one day after I had been there for about 2 months, “that these guys treat safety like a religion!” After my first brush with a MMH leak while working near the forward reaction control system, I became a staunch convert myself.
Safety begins with you. You are not only responsible for yourself, but for your co-workers. Nothing could be worse than to know that your lapse in safety caused an injury to your co-worker. Everything from your dress, conduct, and work habits should have safety as the guiding force.
We are going to start a series on safety. Of all things you take away from your aerospace courses, safety is the most important. The lessons you learn can literally save your life. Stay tuned!