Guest post by Claire Culver
In our last installment I discussed some of the health pitfalls in living with poultry and how to avoid them. In talking about safety, I’ll share a real-life scenario with you to show how a series of mistakes can lead up to someone like me posting about this not-so-fun aspect of rural living.
Last fall, I was out building a winter coop in our greenhouse. The day had been long and frustrating and I was extremely tired. I had been working alone in high temperatures (above 95) for more than six hours without a break for food, water or rest. I was exhausted, hungry and thirsty, but I was finally almost done and I just knew if I paused for a break I wouldn’t have the energy to get back up and get back to work. So I resisted the increasingly desperate urge to quit. I only had one more thing to do, and that was to spread the weed barrier down over the area where I was building raised beds. The fabric was rolled up under a makeshift table we had made the week before using sawhorses, landscape timbers and plywood—a table that was now home to about 100 pounds of potted plants. I reached in under the table to pull it out and discovered that a corner of the fabric was caught underneath one of the legs of a sawhorse that served as the base for the table. Obviously, the easiest thing to do would be to lift that one leg of the sawhorse up just enough to slip the material out, right?
… yeah, you know where this is going.
When I came to (under a pile of landscape timbers, plywood and potted plants), I realized that perhaps I had been a little hasty in my decision to tackle the job alone. Fortunately I had my radio with me, and getting help was as easy as pressing a button and shouting “Michael! I need help in the greenhouse NOW!” Afterward I spent several days under an ice pack running the scenario over and over in my head to think of all the things I’d done wrong and what I’d done right, which is what gave me the idea for the “Curb Your Chickenthusiasm” series.
Reread the above scenario and see if you can find some of the things I did wrong on that almost-fateful day. If you answered, “Well, you reached under the table, you nitwit,” you’re certainly correct, but that’s not enough for the Kewpie doll prize. So, let’s try again. I’ll paste the scenario below for a second time, highlighting the decisions I made wrong. See how many you picked out. If you get them all, you get the Kewpie doll. Of course, as I don’t actually have a Kewpie doll, you’ll have to settle for being granted the right to be smug. What better prize is that, I ask you?
Ready? Here goes:
Last fall, I was out building a winter coop in our greenhouse. The day had been long and frustrating and I was extremely tired. I had been working alone in high temperatures (above 95) for more than six hours without a break for food, water or rest. I was exhausted, hungry and thirsty, but I was finally almost done and I just knew if I paused for a break I wouldn’t have the energy to get back up and get back to work. So, I resisted the increasingly desperate urge to quit. I only had one more thing to do, and that was to spread the weed barrier down over the area where I was building raised beds. The fabric was rolled up under a makeshift table we had made the week before using sawhorses, landscape timbers and plywood—a table that was now home to about 100 pounds of potted plants. I reached in under the table to pull it out and discovered that a corner of the fabric was caught underneath one of the legs of a sawhorse that served as the base for the table. Obviously, the easiest thing to do would be to lift that one leg of the sawhorse up just enough to slip the material out, right?
Wow, put it like that and I really do look like an idiot! Fortunately for me (and my husband), I had done one thing right that day. I had my 2-way radio with me and attached to my belt. Since then I’ve adopted a few safety rules I’d already read and even lectured about, but never quite got around to actually practicing. You know, on account of being invincible and immune from accidents. Here they are, and I hope they’ll keep you and yours safer.
1. Follow the old mnemonic of H.A.L.T. In other words, never let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. If you are suffering from any of those conditions you are more likely to make mistakes. While this is no big deal if you’re deciding on a movie (though I’ll never get those hours of my life back after seeing “Showgirls”), it’s a whole other story if you’re about to pick up that Skil saw (or say, try to shift the corner of an overloaded, improvised table for a roll of weed barrier).
2. Avoid multitasking. By the way, this is an important rule for any workplace. Now, your first reaction may be to roll your eyes and think, “Well sure, if you don’t mind never getting anything done!” (It was mine.) There is a common misconception that working on many things at once equates getting many things done. Quite the opposite is true. The result is doing a lot more work, but getting NONE of it finished. Several studies present evidence of a significant drop in productivity while multitasking, sometimes up to 40%. As for answering that cell phone or texting while working on another task, one study shows a 10 point drop in IQ for participants who did so (more than twice that of the impact of smoking marijuana). Additionally, multitasking causes mood changes such as rage (remember Rule #1). I learned this firsthand after a month of working on three or four projects at once. I was building a winter coop in the greenhouse while simultaneously planning and building raised beds and winterizing the other coops. Despite working 10- to 12-hour days, I ended up with multiple projects that were almost finished, but none were completely finished. Rather than keeping me more motivated and efficient, multitasking and never actually finishing anything sent me into a spiral of increasing frustration and anxiety. Once I dedicated myself to just one job at a time I was happily surprised to find that I finished every one of the projects that had plagued me for weeks within just a few days.
3. Never put a body part under something heavy that is unsecured unless you are ready to lose that body part. Obviously, we can’t always be sure of how safely secured something is, but we can darned well know when it’s glaringly obvious that it isn’t safely secured at all! A sawhorse table, Claire? REALLY? Any fool could see that was a stupid mistake to make, but consider again Rule #1 and how I’d long passed the point of dehydration, fatigue and hunger. Had I not broken that most important rule I would not have had such a lapse in judgment. I’m convinced my I.Q goes down 5 points for every hour I go beyond H.A.L.T.
4. Never use power tools or attempt difficult jobs when no one else is home. Always let someone know where you are, what you’re doing, and when you should be expected back. It may sound like a no-brainer to you, but just last year a farmer I knew with a lifetime of experience was killed while mowing because no one was around to come to his aid when he needed it. The year before, another farmer was exercising his draft horses when the drag flipped. The well-trained horses froze in place, but because the drag had flipped on top of their owner he was trapped. Because he was alone and no one knew where he was or when to expect him home, he lay trapped under the equipment for hours until he finally died of heat exhaustion.
5. Communications. Always have a method of easily communicating with others if there’s an accident. This is something I can’t stress enough. Cell phones might work in some areas, but if your coverage is spotty you could be up the creek if you get hurt, open that phone and discover you’ve got no bars. Besides, when one is — oh, I dunno — buried under a pile of plywood, plants and landscape timbers, it’s complicated and difficult to text “H-E-L-P M-E” and press “send.” Small 2-way radios are sturdy, cheap and always on. All you have to do is press a button and shout “HEEELLLLP!!!” if you need it. Many of them have emergency beacons that call out to partnered radios if activated, eliminating your need to speak. When I go out I clip mine to my belt loop by a carabiner. Both of the men in Rule #4 would have likely survived their accidents if they had been able to call for help. My own outcome could have been far more unpleasant without a trusty radio on my belt. Though our greenhouse is right out back from our house, no amount of screaming would have alerted my husband I was in trouble.
These rules seem like common knowledge, and let’s face it, they are. But how many of us follow these rules every day? Really follow them? How many of us, though knowing better, have done stupid things for years (Here, hold my beer. Watch this!) and gotten away with it? How many of us push past the limit of exhaustion just to finish “that one last thing”? We may get away with it time and again, but that one time we don’t could turn an afternoon chore into a family tragedy. Where safety is concerned, I’d much rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it!