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A Pound of Cure

We don’t know if you’ve ever worked in manufacturing, industrial, warehouse, or other environments in which safety is of paramount concern. We have. And we were always struck by the number of posters, billboards, and display cases that were dedicated to the notion of safety.

We admit we never took them too seriously. We were young. What did we care? We didn’t foresee much. And we certainly didn’t live with the expectation, realistic as it might have been, that disaster lurked around every corner. Then one day …

A True Story

We were working in an appliance-distribution warehouse. Actually, the warehouse comprised three conjoined warehouses. Each of them had a common wall with passageways in those common walls, at the northern and southern ends, large enough to drive forklifts through them. We had to drive forklifts through them because it was by the use of those forklifts that we saved our youthful backs from having to carry the console televisions, stereo systems, dishwashers, refrigerators, and microwave ovens we spent our days jockeying from one place to another.

One day, a co-worker, Andy, drove one of the forklifts from in front of our little office out to the farthest end of the third, most distant warehouse. He returned a little while later on foot. He grabbed a new tank of the propane on which the forklift ran, put the tank on a hand truck, and wheeled it off in the direction whence he’d come. After several minutes, we spotted Andy through the window of our little office, ambling back toward us without the forklift, the hand truck, or the empty propane tank.

With inexplicable serenity, he explained that he’d cross-threaded the hose that coupled the forklift to the new tank and that the propane, liquid in the pressurized confines of the tank, was escaping, as gas, into the air of the third warehouse.

As we bolted, at a dead sprint, for the third warehouse, we recalled that all three warehouses were warmed by gas heaters suspended from the ceilings. We imagined the propane reaching the flames in those gas heaters. And we had visions of ourselves being blown to proverbial smithereens in the ensuing blast.

As we rounded the corner from the second warehouse into the third, the fog from the gasifying propane appeared to present more smoke than a Kiss concert or a glossary of business jargon. In our youthful exuberance (or a death wish) we never broke stride, leapt up on the back of the forklift, removed the coupling (which stopped the flow of propane), and beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of the office.

When five or ten minutes passed with no explosions, we ventured back out to the third warehouse. Once assuring ourselves the air was clear enough to preclude a blast, we securely coupled the new propane tank, put the empty tank on the hand truck, mounted the forklift, started it, and drove it back toward the office, steering with our right hand and towing the hand truck with our left.

Lesson Learned

We learned much about safety — and Andy — that day.

While a comic might not have helped us be more mindful of our surroundings and their potential peril — and while a banana peel may seem trivial — the lesson in the old axiom remains indelible: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

 

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