Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Safety First, Some Reminders in the News

The news recently has reminded me of safety lately. Early this year, the Senate Minority Leader had an accident. More recently, our Secretary of State. Then I saw a thought-provoking headline about a fisherman in Hawaii being stabbed by a swordfish. Finally, an interesting story stemming from a building collapse two years ago in Bangladesh. It seems like accidents and injuries are in the news.

In January, we heard about the serious injury suffered by Harry Reid, the Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate. It involved broken ribs and damage to his right eye. He said he was engaged in his regular exercise routine at his home, using a "resistance band." You see people workout with those over-sized rubber bands, and it looks difficult. He described in an interview published by ABC how "the band broke, and it catapulted me backwards onto one side."

In May, Secretary of State Kerry had an accident and broke his right femur. National Public Radio says that the accident occurred when he hit a curb and fell. According to CNN, the break was close to the site of a previous hip surgery, causing concern. He was airlifted to a hospital in Switzerland, and then to the U.S. for further care. He was fortunate that he was riding in a motorcade, and according to the news "paramedics and a physician were on the scene with the Secretary's motorcade at the time of the accident." Not sure about this specific instances, but pictures on the web of him cycling support that he wears a helmet.

Also in May, a 47 year old Hawaii man saw a "broadbill swordfish" in the water and according to CBS News, he "jumped from the pier in an apparent attempt to catch the" fish. The man purportedly speared the fish, "which then impaled him (in) the chest with its bill." The impact from the forty-pound fish was fatal. Officials were quoted as noting these fish can be dangerous, saying "if you mess with them they defend themselves pretty good."

The Associated Press reports this week that Bangladesh will file murder charges against several individuals following a work-place disaster in 2013. Over one thousand people died when a building collapsed. This was "Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster."  As a side note, that distinction in this country belonged for many years to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City. That event was a seminal event in workplace safety and the birth of American workers' compensation.

In addition to those killed in Bangladesh, the report notes that "about 2,500 people were injured in the disaster." Apparently the investigation revealed that many employees did not wish to work that day. The building had "developed major cracks a day earlier," leading to some concern. The management "forced workers to enter the building despite their unwillingness." Forty-one people are now charged with murder related to "their direct role in the deaths of 1,137 people in the collapse . . .."

Random events, with little in common, on the surface. However, they all include a critical element of workers' compensation, they are accidents resulting in injuries. And that is what workers' compensation is all about.

What can the safety conscious glean from these events? First, safety equipment matters. I suspect that without a helmet, the Secretary of State's bike accident could have been more serious. Safety equipment is recommended or required for a reason, it makes sense to use it. 

Injuries can be serious. Though perhaps not life-threatening, the Secretary of State's injury could take "six months or more to heal," according to CNN. Senator Reid is still recovering from his injuries, and has lost sight in his right eye. The boat captain's injury was fatal. And all of these pale a bit when compared to the multiple fatality disaster in Bangladesh. This is not to minimize the death in Hawaii, but over a thousand dead from one event is simply mind-boggling and tragic.

We have to look out for our own safety. Government and industry can regulate, educate, and motivate, but in the end much of our safety comes down to us. Accidents are going to happen. Work-out (or work) equipment may fail, we may strike something like a curb unexpectedly, outside forces of nature like a fish, lightening, or simply water may confront us with challenges for which we are unprepared or by which we are simple surprised. A plug here for that bicycle helmet; when the unexpected does strike the use of safety equipment may be the difference. 

The "gut" may be the best safety device ever devised. At least some of those folks in Bangladesh had a bad feeling about that building. They were aware of their surroundings and had noted "major cracks." They were "forced . . . to enter the building despite their unwillingness . . .." I do not know the circumstances of these people. It may be that their choices were nil, work in the place they feared or perhaps not work at all. Hunger and poverty can be strong motivators. I am not faulting them for the decision(s) that they made, but merely suggesting that our instincts may be one of our best tools to spot and avoid danger. 

No matter how safe we try to be, accidents will happen. Not to say that we should expect them or that we should not strive to prevent them, but human beings will have accidents. 

The Kerry story also illustrates that the availability of quick medical care can be a blessing. We cannot all have a doctor and paramedic with us, ready to render aid. But we can be focused on obtaining medical attention as rapidly as practical. We think of Florida and picture urban centers like Miami and Orlando, but a great deal of work gets done in places that are far more rural and in which medical care may be less readily available. It perhaps behooves us to think ahead of time about where that care would be should the need arise. 

The final point is worth noting in the context of workers' compensation. Injuries are sometimes surrounded by questions, and workers' compensation is not immune to that. It is interesting that the news is now publishing the Harry Reid story again. In April, Breitbart reported that he is "presenting a new explanation of how he acquired those gruesome injuries." They note that more recently Senator Reid has described the accident differently. Originally, the band was attached to a shower door and "broke." More recently, it was attached to a big hook and "slipped." 

One news outlet actually obtained photographs of the Senator's bathroom and published them. That story contained comments about the bathroom, and the writer's perception that there was no "big hook" present as described. 

One website suggested that Senator Reid "ran afoul of mobsters." Another website suggested that Senator Reid was injured in a fight with a family member. Snopes reported that was a hoax. In the context of this injury, it is not really relevant. But it is interesting how eagerly people will doubt the mechanics of an injury even when there is no relevance. 

My point here is that there are those who will always be suspicious of accidents. The descriptions may change, or at least be perceived as changing. From the nature of the injuries cited in some articles, to the change in the story, suspicions are aroused. Is it really any different in workers' compensation cases? Unlike Senator Reid's injury, the description of an accident in terms of timing, location, and activity can have a potentially critical effect on workers' compensation decisions. 

Four people. Interesting lessons in safety. Accidents happen, sometimes in places we least anticipate like home. Safety equipment can be helpful or critical. Nature and the uncontrollable can cause us harm; it is to be respected. Our perceptions and intuitions may be our best tool and when we can we need to listen to our gut. Medical care is critical, and rapid medical care can be a real blessing. 

Safety in my thoughts this June morning. I hope we are all focused on our safety. The 2015 hurricane season has begun. Watch the weather. Have a plan. Be safe. 


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