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It's a Mindset

It's a Mindset

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CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 EARL SCHLOTTERBECK
458th Engineer Battalion
Johnstown, Pennsylvania


When I went to work that morning, I never thought I would later be sitting in the emergency room with one broken hand and a piece of metal in the palm of the other. Complacency and overconfidence had won the day.

As a private, I joined the U.S. Army Reserve as a 62B (91L) construction equipment repairer and received training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Safety was highly emphasized and we were instructed regularly in the proper use of personal protective equipment and safe working procedures. When I reached my reserve unit, we received additional training on safety and safe practices.

I was more than adequately trained on safety procedures during maintenance operation, but I was still young and inexperienced. When I wore my uniform, I followed all safety and PPE requirements, lest I faced the wrath of my NCO. (I had great leaders who watched out for me and ensured I kept all my fingers and toes.) But my civilian experience was a bit different.

In my civilian life, I took a job at an emergency road service company after returning from Basic and Advanced Individual Training. The safety culture there was very different. Safety standards were rarely established and there was no enforcement or consequences for an unsafe act. It’s no surprise that vehicle and equipment accidents were normal occurrences and injuries to personnel were commonplace. It was only a matter of time before an accident happened to me.

It was late afternoon when I received a dispatch to a service call along the interstate for a tractor-trailer with two flat tires. My shift was almost over and I had plans with friends that evening, so I began to rush to get out of the shop. I had a lot of items in the bed of my truck but no time to offload them if I was going to meet my friends on time. I tossed the new tires on top of the load when I noticed my portable tire safety cage sitting inside the shop doorway. There was no room left on the truck to load it. My training told me I needed to take it, but I was in a hurry. My supervisor told me to just go and call if I needed him.

When I arrived at the jobsite, the driver told me he had only driven about two miles from the time the tires went flat to when he stopped. I began to work at a frenzied pace. The process was simple. I jacked up the truck and started removing the wheels like I was trying out for a NASCAR pit crew. I quickly changed the blown tires but never bothered to inspect the aluminum wheels on which they were mounted. Had I not skipped this step, I may have seen the deformation of the bead-seating area, the part of the wheel the tire seals against.

Having left my safety cage behind, I should have stopped at this point. However, I had changed countless tires before and was confident these would be no different. I leaned the tire up against my pickup and began inflating the first new tire.

To speed up the process, I removed the valve core in the valve stem to allow more air into the tire. I was kneeling in front of the tire with the extraction tool in my hand, preparing to insert it into the valve stem, when it happened. The aluminum wheel popped free from the tire with a loud explosion, lodging the core extractor in my left hand and breaking bones in my right. The force was so great that it shoved me into the travel lanes of the interstate. Dazed and disoriented, I radioed my dispatcher and told him what had happened. He notified emergency services, who took me to the ER.

Looking back, there were multiple factors that contributed to my accident. Overconfidence and haste were the two most notable. Having worked at the company for three years, I thought I had seen and done it all. In my mind, this was a menial task that warranted little attention. I failed to conduct a thorough inspection of the equipment I was servicing due to my complacency. I should have adhered to safety standards I’d been taught in the Army and applied them to my civilian life.

My list of transgressions is lengthy, but they gave me some important lessons learned:

• Slow down and think. Never rush a job. Working a few minutes longer is better than never making it home. The few minutes you might save just aren’t worth it.

• Use your PPE and safety equipment. Your PPE can be the deciding factor between a close call and death. Don’t chance it. Always wear your PPE.

• Practice safety both on and off duty. This applies to both active-duty and Guard/Reserve Soldiers.

This accident was a turning point. Afterward, I began applying safety to all areas of my life — both on and off duty. I realized safety is more than a brief you have to listen to before work begins. It’s a mindset we should apply to all aspects of our lives.

  • 13 August 2017
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1309
  • Comments: 0
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