The laws of the land say workers are entitled to a safe work environment. That’s good. I don’t want razor blades for handrails, slippery floors, or exposed electrical conductors. But the pendulum has, possibly, swung too far to the extreme. Is it really necessary to leave at least a modicum of basic, adult, common sense out of the equation?
Other laws of the land limit the age at which people may work in an industrial environment. So we don’t need to protect grade schoolers from rotating blades, or presses, or from things adults should know are dangerous. Can’t adults be expected to use a smidgin of common sense to protect themselves? An adolescent’s first paying job is often cutting lawns in the summer. A lawn mower can be much more dangerous than industrial machinery, with much less protection for the young operator.
I attended a conference recently in which safety concerns were covered extensively. One anecdote repeated several times described how operators raised a light curtain slightly to create an unprotected region to permit access for taking samples. When operators don’t use common sense to protect themselves, but also actively work against their own safety, why are machine builders expected to take their safety seriously?
The argument for raising the light curtain protecting the operator from the work hazard was that, otherwise, taking samples stopped the machine and impeded productivity. The operators spent so much effort bypassing the safety equipment for their own protection, instead of finding a better way to collect the samples.
This reminds me of that woman who won a rather large settlement from McDonald's for their extremely hot coffee, which she spilled into her lap. Granted, the large settlement was greatly reduced later on, but why on earth did the initial judge grant her the award in the first place? Didn’t the woman use any common sense at all?
In another incident, a cleaning crew removed guards protecting a flighted chain on a conveyor. The crew passed their air line through the chain loop. Not under, along the floor, but through the loop. The chain was started to allow cleaning of the entire length. You can predict what happened; the hose got pulled into a sprocket, someone tried to free it, and ended up losing a finger. Guards removed, hose routed in a simply idiotic manner, and the chain moving. How far are machine builders expected to go to protect people who do not protect themselves?
I used to enjoy reading the Darwin Awards Website; but the entertainment paled as more and more people found more and more ways to hurt themselves. I wonder if the drive toward perfect safety is not good for human natural selection. By eliminating the need for using just a little common sense, are we really better off?