Safety Articles & Information

What Do Injuries Really Cost?

My colleagues and I responded to an ambulance call for an attempted suicide. After the police told us it was safe to enter the house (which is normal procedure when a firearm is involved) we went into the bathroom to find the victim lying in the bathtub. He was obviously dead. He had killed himself by taking a high powered rifle and shooting himself in the head. There was nothing we could do for him but it was obvious his family needed help. You see, he was found by his little girl and his estranged wife.

Why did this man kill himself? What were the events leading to this tragedy? One of the triggers may well have been that he hadn't moved the ladder two feet. I'll explain. Approximately one year prior, this man was working at home, painting the eavestrough. He had just a few more feet of painting to do. He realized he should get down from the ladder and move it over in order to do the job safely, but he decided not to and he took a risk; like we have all done at one time or another. As he leaned over to finish, he lost his balance and fell. At the jobsite he might not have taken this risk because most worksites have safety rules and regulations that must be followed and that can be enforced. At most homes though, there are few safety rules. This man's decision to take the risk and lean over had a profound effect on him and his family. His fall severely fractured his upper leg and pelvis. From that instant on, this once active man's life changed dramatically. He required several operations and many months of bed rest and rehabilitation. He was also not the only person affected by his injury. Trying to save 30 seconds by not taking the time to move the ladder cost his family dearly as well. There is always a ripple effect when someone is injured. Let's look at some of these effects.

The injury caused him constant pain for a very long time. This combined with depression led to the abuse of the pain killers he had been prescribed.

The family income was reduced so his wife went back to work leaving him to look after the small children. The depression progressed to the point he started abusing alcohol which in turn caused additional stress within his family. His wife eventually left him, taking the children with her. Left alone he spiraled down to the depths of depression and substance abuse. Eventually he felt life was no longer worth living and he killed himself. This is an extreme example of the ripple effect of an injury, but it did not end there. Think about how traumatized his little girl and wife must have been. Not all cases of poor judgment will result in this kind of tragedy, but there are almost always repercussions from injuries.

Are Off The Job Injuries a Problem?

In my experience as a Paramedic/Fire Fighter, I have observed that most of the injury related calls I have responded to were not at the worksite, but rather in homes or areas where people were participating in recreational activities. On one large construction site the safety personnel noted that there were four to five times more off the job injuries than on. DuPont of Canada, which has an incredibly good safety record, noted that their off the job injuries are about ten times higher than their on the job injuries. Home can be a very dangerous place.

Most people at a worksite take safety training courses and wear proper personal protective equipment. The safety rules should be and can be enforced by the company. Many people who would refuse to use an unsafe ladder at the worksite will go home and use a ladder that is unstable, broken or too short for the job. Often the result is injury.

We have to realize that safety is a twenty-four hour a day concern. The safe work habits developed on the job should not be left at the office or in the locker along with the steel toe boots, hard hats and safety goggles.

Many companies are starting to recognize that encouraging and promoting off the job safety saves money. It doesn't matter where a worker is injured, the company pays. This can be in increased WCB or sick time. If a worker falls down some stairs at home and breaks his ankle, he could be off work for six weeks. If your company is paying for the injured person's sick time, it is paying for a worker who is not producing. The worker has to be replaced so overtime is paid out for those six weeks. The new worker may not be as experienced as the injured worker on the particular job, so there could be a reduction of productivity. All of this means the company is losing money despite the fact the worker was injured off the job.

A seemingly minor incident occurred when a woman was walking her large dog. In an effort to stop it as it bolted towards another dog, she grabbed the dog by the collar, inadvertently twisting her finger. The result was a serious fracture of her ring finger. Her engagement ring had to be cut off and surgery was required to place pins in the bones. Since her job required keyboarding, her productivity was greatly reduced. She also had to attend physiotherapy twice a week for several weeks. So even a broken finger can cost a company several thousand dollars.

Preventing Injuries

The following are a few tips you can share with your family, friends and co-workers to help reduce off the job injuries.

You may think many of these tips are so-called "common sense". However "common sense" or common knowledge is often dependent on what you have been exposed to. For example, a person who has been working with car engines ever since he or she was a child will likely know how to boost a car battery. A person who has never been exposed to this may find it to be quite a challenge. I prefer to use the term good sense. Sometimes "common sense" for one person may be a great revelation for another.

Tip #1
If you don't know how to do a job safely, get help or hire someone.

Every summer people rent chain saws and even though they have never even been close to such a piece of equipment, they will listen to the accompanying 20 second safety talk and then go to the cottage and attempt to cut down the biggest tree they can find. This can be extremely foolish. Chain saws can cause horrible injuries. Many experienced loggers are killed or injured every year by falling trees.

In situations like this it is to your advantage to hire someone or get someone with experience to do the job for you. Your safety is worth it.

Tip #2
Use the safety equipment and safety guards.

A gentleman was using his table saw. Just as he started to make a cut, his large dog jumped on him causing his thumb to be cut off by the moving blade. Due to several factors, reattachment was not possible. This man was a dentist. I'm sure you can see the ripple effect of this injury. Use of the safety guard could have prevented this injury. Safety guards and personal protective equipment are necessities. If used properly, they can help reduce injuries.

Tip #3
Pay attention to safety warnings.

Most newer lawnmowers have a sticker warning you to keep your hands and feet away from the underside. So why will seemingly intelligent people take a perfectly good hand and reach underneath a running mower? This happens on a regular basis and to add insult to injury they are usually reaching for something as valuable as an old stick or a wet clump of grass.

Another common warning is the printing on the top of a step ladder that says THIS IS NOT A STEP. But commonly people fall off their ladders injuring themselves after losing their balance when they were standing on the THIS IS NOT A STEP notice. This does not mean it is not a step unless you need it to clean your eavestrough or paint your window awnings. It means this is not a step, period.

By paying attention to safety instructions and warnings you can reduce the chance of injury.

Tip #4
Listen to good advice.

One gentleman I attended ignored his wife's constant urging to fix the front steps because they were dangerous. Apparently some of the wooden steps were rotten. One morning while he was on his way to work, one of the steps broke through causing him to fall forwards onto the sidewalk. He landed face first, knocking out several teeth and fracturing his jaw. He also landed with enough force to break his neck, causing spinal cord damage rendering him a quadriplegic.

One of the best examples of people failing to heed good advice was the early European Arctic explorers. After seventy-five years of Arctic exploration, they still refused to listen to the advice of the Inuit and wear animal skins to keep warm and to sew hoods on their parkas. Listen to good advice.

Tip #5
Watch the booze.

I'm sure you are aware of the danger of drinking and driving. We are warned of the perils every day by the media. It is not only drinking and driving that causes injuries, but drinking and any activity that requires coordination. When under the influence, people tend to take chances they wouldn't if they were sober. I have attended people who were killed or seriously injured when drinking and snowmobiling, boating, hunting, falling into campfires, working on their roofs, walking, falling off stools and even drinking and talking too much (usually talking when they should have been listening).

Alcohol can increase the chance of injury. If you are going to drink, don't have anything planned that would need any kind of good judgment.

Tip #6
Recognize and control your stress.

A man was working on the thesis for his Doctorate. He was under extreme stress due to the workload, deadline, plus other stresses such as financial problems, raising a family, etc. One evening, he was working on the thesis and looking after his infant son. His son was upset and wouldn't stop crying. He grabbed the baby and started shaking him to make him stop crying. He shook the baby so hard from his frustration that the baby died. This is an example of Shaken Baby Syndrome, an occurrence that happens much too often.

In this case, stress and anger killed an innocent baby. Stress can also increase the chance of injuries in many other ways. Have you ever been behind a driver that was travelling much slower than the speed limit when you were in a hurry? Did you ever try to pass the car out of frustration when it wasn't as safe as it should have been? You are not alone. Stress can cause people to do things they would never have thought of doing when they were in a relaxed state. There are also long term effects of stress such as headaches, back pain, indigestion, constipation, jaw clenching, ulcers and the list goes on. Stress can shorten your life and reduce the quality of life. If you are having problems, seek help. There are ways to control stress.

Tip #7
Concentrate on what you are doing.

I'm sure you have seen people driving down the road while talking on their cell phone and sorting through papers. Maybe you have even done it yourself. One of the easiest ways to reduce injuries is to concentrate on the job at hand. When using your cell phone and sorting though papers, you can't concentrate on driving. Which would have more serious repercussions: waiting until you stop to find the phone number and make the call or a motor vehicle collision? The answer is obvious.

The same applies to the use of tools, ladders, machinery or to any procedure that needs your full attention. You shouldn't be dreaming about the beaches of Mexico when you are using a power saw or thinking about the next thing you have to do before you are finished the job at hand. Remember this definition of concentration I came across but am unable to attribute to anyone: "Wherever your are, be there".

Tip #8
When you see a dangerous situation, fix it immediately.

Several years ago, while on my way to work, I stepped on some ice that was on our front sidewalk. I slipped and almost fell but regained my balance. I intended to put some salt on it but didn't. Later that night, at the firehall, I received a phone call from a neighbor telling me my wife had slipped on some ice (the same patch of ice I had slipped on), fallen down and broken her arm just below the shoulder joint. Because we had a three year old and an infant, I needed to use two weeks of holidays from work to do all the cooking, cleaning, feeding, and changing diapers. The infant was breast fed at the time so this made it quite difficult for my wife. This whole situation could have been prevented if I had taken the time to fix the dangerous situation immediately. When you see a dangerous situation, fix it immediately.

These are just a few tips that can help. Safety should be a twenty four hour concern. I hope you share these ideas with your family, friends and coworkers. It is not only important to remember these tips but to practice them. Knowledge without practice doesn't mean anything. If we practice these tips, it could save us time, money, tears, and possibly a life.

Martin Lesperance is a fire fighter/paramedic and is the author of the best selling book, "I Won't be in to Work Today - Preventing Injuries at Home, Work and Play" and "Kids for Keeps - Preventing Injuries to Children". Martin delivers keynote presentations and seminars dealing with injury prevention and wellness. To order the books or for more information on the presentations, call 403-225-2011 or email

Martin Lesperance
(403) 225 - 2011 or 1-888-278-8964