Putting Yourself First For Safety

Putting Yourself First For Safety

Policies and procedures are only as good as those following them.

I once worked with a Romanian technician named Alex. He was a tiny guy who chain-smoked. His greatest fear was not a totalitarian dictator. It was fire and falling cars. 

Back in those days, we used drop lights with incandescent bulbs. This was long before LEDs and rechargeable batteries. The bulbs would typically stop working when they were lightly jostled. If they were dropped, the glass bulb would shatter.

One day, another technician was changing a fuel filter. It was an older fuel injection system that retained pressure after the engine was turned off. Alex had a sixth sense that something was going to happen. When the technician cracked the banjo bolt on the fuel filter, a mist and droplets of fuel escaped. He quickly stepped backward and knocked the drop light to the ground.

When the droplight hit the floor, Alex was out the back door with a fire extinguisher. Luckily, there was no fire. I asked Alex why he ran for the door with the fire extinguisher. He responded that “HE” didn’t want to catch fire. 

Alex also had another safety quirk. At the time, I was just learning and would call Alex over for assistance. If I put a car on a lift, Alex would not go under it. If he put the car on the lift, he would have no problem going under it. No matter how carefully I spotted a car on a lift, he would never get under it. I eventually spotted Alex not getting under a car that one of the most senior technicians lifted.

I asked him about it, and he said that “HE” didn’t trust others with lifting a vehicle. He said the only person he trusts to lift a vehicle is himself.

Alex’s odd behavior taught me that I was the only person looking out for my safety. While running out the back door with a fire extinguisher was extreme, it taught me that worrying about my safety before the shop and other co-workers is up to me. 

That is why they tell adults to put on their oxygen masks on the plane before their children.

His philosophy was you should not trust another technician, inspector or equipment manufacturer to look out for your safety. Also, policies and procedures are only as good as those following them. Alex believed the second you think safety equipment, procedures and policy protect you is when you are most vulnerable for an accident. 

I was thinking about Alex recently when taking a safety course on handling hybrid and EV battery packs and high-voltage components. I wondered what Alex would do if he heard a crackling of 400 volts arcing between components.

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