The Not-so-splendid Splinter
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 KATHLYNN VARSHINE
1/185th Aviation Helicopter Battalion
Florida Army National Guard
In the military, safety is always a focus. Risk management, policies and procedures are ingrained in our heads in order to protect and preserve equipment as well as our brothers and sisters standing next to us every day. When I go to work in the morning, I pass by a sign with giant red numbers representing how many days our office has gone without an accident. I have seen that number as high as 296, which usually gets spoiled by something as simple as a fender bender in the parking lot. Our workplace is intrinsically safe because of the training we have received from the very best leadership.
For some reason, however, safety at home is another story. At work, I don’t think twice about putting on safety glasses when faced with the hazards of a grinding wheel, or wearing gloves while disposing of diesel fuel that leaked into a drip pan. Believe it or not, I did not even own a pair of safety glasses, ear muffs or work gloves at home. I say “did” because I do now. Here’s why:
It was a hot summer afternoon and I was exhausted from a long day at work. Unfortunately, my front yard was a jungle and needed tending before I started receiving nasty letters from the homeowners association. I changed into my “rags” (shorts and a tank top) and work shoes (dirty sneakers) and went to work with the lawnmower.
I started with the front yard because that’s the only part anyone could see. Once I finished mowing, I grabbed the weed trimmer and started knocking down the grass against the fence. Suddenly, I felt a sharp sting in my eye that grew more painful every time I blinked. I ran inside to the mirror but could not keep my eye opened wide enough to tell what was causing the pain. I asked my son to take a look. He said, “Mommy, there is a stick in your eye.”
I ran across the street to ask my neighbor for help. Ultimately, there was nothing she could do but cringe. She told me to get into her car so she could drive me to the hospital. There, doctors used a cold metal device to spread open my eyelids and removed a splinter from my eye with tweezers. I returned home that night with a patch over my eye that I wore for two weeks.
Thankfully, my eye healed and I didn’t lose any sight — but this incident wasn’t enough to convince me to wear PPE at home. It wasn’t until three years later, when I applied to be an aviator, that my eye injury convinced me to reconsider safety. I was faced with a career-ender before it even began. Although my eyesight was 20/20, the optometrist was close to sending me home due to an abnormal curvature. He showed me a detailed picture of an indentation in the same eye that had the splinter. All I could think about was, “What career path will I take now?” I had it all figured out and mowing the lawn ruined it for me! No, not wearing eye protection ruined it for me.
Fortunately, I passed my physical and became an aviator; but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my mind was changed the day I thought my career was over. I now take home all of the safety measures I practice and learn at work. I will never do yard work again without safety glasses, hearing protection and appropriate clothing such as long pants and closed-toe shoes. In fact, I will never attempt any task at any time without first considering the hazards and implementing controls to ensure I mitigate them!