This first photo shows the whole picture, with all the components equally lighted and in focus. That is what we were learning about in our safety meeting yesterday. Fatal accidents in the workplace happen when perfect storms are created because one or more things are not properly attended to. Or, when things are not all in focus at the same time.
I don't talk about our work on here very often, but we own four small companies that have to do with sand and gravel pits, redi-mix concrete, and construction work. Every couple of years, our safety trainer, Ed, comes in for a day of first-aid certification and MSHA miner's training. He usually shows us tons of slides, explaining how the most recent people died in above-ground and underground mines. The idea is for us to think about how we could do things differently than the people who died did, and what to be aware of in hidden and obvious dangers. People are no match for huge machinery or heavy material, and just going to work can do you in. Seriously. All we have going for us is our brains and somebody else's recommended systems.
Ed said that some people have the attitude that "shit happens", or in nicer terms, "whatever will be will be". He said that MSHA believes that nothing is really an accident; instead that accidents are really a series of components that add up to disaster. If one or more of the components had not taken place, then disaster could have been avoided. So, if there is a death in a mine, they pick apart the accident scenario, place blame to guilty parties and fine the companies thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They are about punishment, but that is a whole other blog post.
This time, though we did see slides, Ed told us the story of his life which included working in underground mines and being in mine rescue, as well as in safety training. I found it very interesting. He is a super storyteller, and painted a picture of what it was like to spend a day inside of a mountain, 6900' down with only head lamps for light.
I learned that the deeper underground that you go, the hotter it gets, up to 130* or more! It is also very wet. The miners wear longjohns underneath heavy rain-gear to go to work. The longjohns are so the rain-gear won't stick to your skin. Nobody tells you that for the first month, until you acclimate, you will essentially have the worst case of diaper rash (really heat rash) from the waist down all the way to your feet. It gave me a huge respect for what those working underground go through. I know that I could never do it.
One recent death that occurred in Idaho involved the son of one of Ed friends, and it was particularly upsetting. If only one thing had not happened, then the young man would not have died. But he was buried up to his nose in material, and, apparently, if you are even buried up past your navel in material, you will suffocate due to the pressure on your diaphragm and lungs if nobody can get you out in time. Like I said, just going to work can do you sometimes.
After these trainings, I walk around fearful for the next week or so, wondering if somebody that I know will unexpectedly die soon. Plus, I am now another year older (one step closer to the end), and there was still a funeral to go to that day. Death was on my mind yesterday.
More than anything though, what I actually came away with from the training was pondering the meaning of certain words. Take the word "accident". Are there really accidents, or is MSHA actually right on that one?
On the way back home from Toppenish a couple of weeks ago, Cary and I almost bit the dust. We were pulling the 5th wheel on a straight stretch of road, with nobody in front of or behind us. There were three cars in the other lane. Going 55 or 60 mph, we were driving along, minding our own business. I was looking down at my camera when Cary said, "Oh, no." I looked up, and there was the third car, an older white one, deciding to pass the other two. I just covered my eyes and said a prayer. There was a guard rail on our other side, so all Cary could do was slow down. Though the white car got over just in time, he was 60' from smashing head-on right into us.
Back home, most people would have said, oh, that is horrible! Cary and Kathy were in a fatal head-on accident on their way home from Washington! Because certainly, somebody would have died. Would it have been an accident though? It would have been a bad wreck, but did that person in the white car accidentally decide to make a stupid pass? Nah, that driver made the decision to pass intentionally, even if he or she wasn't ready for the consequences of their decision.
I only wish that I had lifted up my camera, taken a picture of the car who almost hit us, and therefore gotten the license plate. Because on my action sports shooting setting, I could have. And then I could have punished them by sending that picture to the WSP and turning them in. OMG! I hate acting like MSHA.
Unlike the first photo, where everything is in equal focus and lighting, the one above focuses on only one candle. Yesterday, at our friend's memorial service, the focus was on him.
When you go to the funeral of somebody that you know, but not very well, it is different from going to one of your own relatives. For me, instead of focusing on my own grief, I was focusing on the grief of others. I also learned so much about the man who died.
He was around my age. He loved the Ducks. He was very heavy and had a bad heart. He had a huge family full of cousins, kids, aunts, uncles and ex-wives. He knew a lot of people from the barbershop and the restaurant where he used to work. He was well-loved by those who lived in the low-income trailer park that he managed. When he was young, he was a talented boxer who was scheduled to go to the Olympics, until they learned that he was a month to young to qualify. What a major disappointment that must have been.
His dad, another major icon in our small town, officiated the service. He did well at keeping things from getting too sad. He introduced family members. We could tell who many of them were anyway, because they had matching tee shirts made up with a picture of our friend on the front. His step-mom got up and sang a beautiful church song, and his cousin played the guitar and sang.
It was open mike. Sometimes you never know what folks are going to say. There were about 30 people who got up and spoke, sharing memories and stories about him. Some people made me very sad; others made me laugh; one man made me very angry. The former mayor spoke. Cary spoke. An ex-wife spoke. Many from the trailer park spoke. A lesbian friend got up and said nice things, and then seemed to be promoting gay marriage. A teenage boy was heartbroken, and he made me cry when he got up there. The story was all the same though: He was a brat, he had a huge heart, and was overall a very positive and helpful person.
The words spoken about him were kind, because of his actions. The consequence of a life well-lived; full of love, mistakes, good deeds and many, many, people. Over 300 of them showed up to say goodbye.
I wish that I had gotten to know him better.
~ Kathy M.
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