Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Price of Safety

I've been thinking lately about personal safety when it comes to hams and towers. It's come up on this blog from time to time. Too many hams are injured or killed pursuing the hobby we love. Many more come close to harm without really appreciating the precipice they were teetering on. They were just lucky someone else saw the danger and either warned them or did something about it.

When I say I've been thinking about safety I mean thinking about it more than I usually think about it. One reason is that I am about to put up a very tall tower. I've worked on big towers though never one of my own. This means I'll be at a great height more often than ever before. The other is that I recently did several tower jobs for others, involving both hams and non-hams who are not experienced with towers or tower safety.

How much is safety worth? Is it worth a friendship? This is not idle speculation. When you're up the tower and you see a friend step into the jaws of danger you have a choice to make: say something or don't say something. If the situation is urgent you may end up shouting words that are far from polite. Words that we never want to pass between friends.

When I was young I paid little attention to danger. Teenagers are immortal of course. Many times I climbed towers without any safety equipment to perform a routine maintenance task. Teenagers live in the moment where a one or two day delay to borrow even as little as a leather lineman's belt from a friend is too much. As I grew older I became more sensible as I hope most of us do.

When you've been on towers as much as I have over the decades you get to see far too many things that speak of mortal danger. I've been lucky not to have ever been seriously injured or had it happen to others I've worked with. Mostly that's due to good planning and a sensible crew. Other times it's just good luck. Face it, hams take stupid risks far too often.

When I was younger and most of the other hams were older I was reluctant to speak out when stupidity sprouted up around me. I am now far less likely to hold back. It is not a spontaneous eruption but rather a calculated urgent and forceful tone, a technique I learned from many years in corporate management. I want to incite an immediate response to mitigate a present danger.

What are these dangers? There are too many to list! Let me give a few examples:
  • Children allowed to play in the work area, including the tower base directly below me.
  • Refusal to wear a hard hat, or taking it off to be more comfortable.
  • Undoing a safety harness because it's "in the way".
  • Insisting on standing in exactly the wrong place when pulling on a rope and thus putting everyone at serious risk due to imminent mechanical breakage.
  • Acting with zero regard for the safety of the rest of the crew and risk to property.
  • Putting their hands or other body part where a sudden change in rope tension could result in severe injury.
  • Unsafe use of power equipment.
  • Chatting when they should be paying close attention.
  • Disappearing for a personal break without telling anyone.
  • Making mistakes out of no fault of their own other than a lack of experience. This is a management fault, often with me being the guilty party.
  • Not asking for a break when they need one or they aren't strong enough to accomplish a task. We all have our limits.
  • When a mistake is made the person loudly casts blame elsewhere. Ill will is bad enough but more worrisome is that failure to own up is a signal that more and worse mistakes will follow.
It's the innocent errors that most concern me. The others can be managed by not inviting or uninviting those who are unwilling or incapable of learning and correcting behaviour. Sometimes it can be accomplished diplomatically by finding a suitable task that puts them out of danger to themselves and others. The person may take offense so be prepared.

It can't always be done diplomatically and the need to act may be urgent. That's when I raise my voice. That's the moment when a friendship can be put in jeopardy. Afterwards or sooner if possible I make a point of apologizing to those I shouted at. I go on to explain that I was compelled to do so because I was concerned for their immediate safety or that of others. Usually they understand and all ends well. But not always.

July is the midpoint of antenna season in these northern latitudes and therefore marks a good time to revisit safety. Pardon the preaching but this is a message that cannot be repeated often enough. Sacrifice a friendship if you must. It is better to have a living ex-friend than a dead friend.

I am not immune. There are times when I am the target of a warning or unexpectedly stern advice. I've learned not to take it personally. I listen and usually discover that the warning or advice is warranted. To err is human and I am human. Welcome the intervention of your friends. They care about you.  I swallow my pride and gracefully adapt to the situation. And I learn.

When it's done right everyone gets to go home with a smile on their face, happy with a tower job done well, and still be friends.

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