NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
Working around large factory equipment is inherently dangerous. Mix in losing situational awareness and you have an accident waiting to happen. Here’s my story.
I was working nine-hour shifts six days a week in a stifling paper processing plant, manipulating 600-pound rolls onto large, dangerous industrial machinery. Doing my job well and fast meant that those who used what I processed could do their jobs. The work was arduous, and at the end of most days I would sleep 10 to 12 hours.
On this particular day, I’d only been at work for an hour and a half. I hadn’t had my usual couple cups of coffee, so I wasn’t awake as I normally might have been. (This was during a time when some scientists or health industry people said coffee was bad for us, which led me to switch to tea. Apparently, tea isn’t as good as coffee at keeping us alert.) My first break was coming up, but I first wanted to check a fan belt on one of the machines. It had been squeaking a lot over the past few months and needed to be tightened regularly.
I turned off the machine, went to the toolbox to get a wrench and then walked to the area where the fan belt was located. I thought everything had finished winding down and didn’t hear or see anything on my walk toward the fan belt to suggest it was still spinning. I knew I should move two inches to the left so I could see the sandpaper rougher roll inside the machine that was turned by the fan belt, but for some reason, I just didn’t do that. So there I was, wanting to do the best job I could while not at my 100 percent best.
I reached in to test the tautness of the belt with my left ring and middle fingers, like one would do when working on a car. To my surprise, I found the belt hadn’t finished winding down! In fact, it was still going fast enough to pull my fingers with it. The belt was tight enough on the pulley to cut through the bone of the first joint of my ring finger and lacerate the top tendon of my middle finger.
Unfortunately, the doctor said the joint couldn’t be reattached due to the lack of bone left, so I now have a stubby ring finger. The nerves that went to the tip of my finger are now bundled into an annoying ball inside the second portion of my finger. Had I just moved two inches to the left before checking the fan belt I might still have my finger and could have continued playing bass guitar at a professional level. Instead, I feel like a complete idiot.
To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t fully check to see whether the fan belt had wound down before sticking my fingers in harm’s way. Talk about learning a lesson the hard way! There is one consolation, though. The plant has since instituted safety measures to protect others from similar injuries. The fan belt guard has been fully reworked so the operator has to take considerable time to get it off before being able to touch any portion of the mechanism. The rest of the plant has also been reworked to provide more safety to the employees. While I’m happy others won’t have to go through a similar ordeal, I wish it didn’t come at the expense of my finger.