Spotting Safety Issues

Some safety issues are difficult to see, but you can’t ever stop looking.

The words written about safety in these pages over the years are innumerable. But if a picture is worth 1,000 words, a lot of work can be undone with a single image.

I got an email the other day from a regular Municipal Sewer & Water reader. He had very kind words about the magazine but questioned the use of a single photo. The photo, one of several included in a feature about a wastewater utility, presented some safety concerns. In a situation that clearly called for eye and ear protection, and probably a mask, the worker wore only safety glasses.

It’s a photo that shouldn’t have made the cut. There were numerous factors that led to using the photo, but in the end, in the scramble to wrap everything up while working from home and dealing with a variety of pandemic-related complications, the photo slipped by. I was worried primarily about getting the issue together and lost focus on something we usually give more attention.

In that way, using a photo I shouldn’t have came about in much the same way safety issues come about on the job site: You’re worried about getting the job done, restoring service and reopening the road, and you lose track of seemingly small things along the way. In my case, the result was actually a nice email pointing out the mistake. On the job site, consequences can be far more severe.

A lot of photos cross my desk every month. Some are good; some are bad. Most illustrate good safety practices, but some demonstrate poor practices, and a few reveal dangerous situations. Those photos stand out. They’re easy to recognize, just like major safety issues on your job sites. But then there are the less obvious cases. Someone running a jet/vac truck without ear or eye protection, a pit that’s on the borderline of being deep enough to require shoring, holding a jetter hose without gloves, and in many cases, a camera angle that makes it difficult to tell for sure. Any of us might miss it. In your case, that leads to workers taking chances with serious consequences. In my case, I’m promoting — or at least normalizing — that behavior. Neither is good. And again, the consequences are much more severe on your end than mine.

I’ll be reminding everyone who works on MSW to pay attention to safety issues in photos, and I hope you regularly take the time to talk safety with your crew. You couldn’t do them a bigger favor.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of vigilance. Passive attitudes toward safe practices can’t be tolerated, and everyone on your team needs to be empowered to point out and correct unsafe practices both in the shop and on the job site.

I’m glad my mistake was pointed out, and you should be glad when someone points out a safety risk on your job site. They’re preventing potential disaster.

Enjoy this month’s issue. 

Comments on this column or about any article in this publication may be directed to editor Luke Laggis, 800-257-7222; 


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