The alarm clock fades in with the Classic Rock station your spouse set it to the night before blaring some Pink Floyd. You wrap your pillow around your head while they smack the snooze button once...twice, maybe a third time before you feel the mattress shift. The alarm goes silent and the blankets are thrown back before bare feet slap across the laminate floor. The bathroom door clicks shut, the pipes groan and the shower hisses to life. A few minutes later, with the sun just beginning to illuminate the morning sky, you drift back off to sleep. You don't hear your husband..your wife..finish getting ready.
You don't hear the front door shut as they pull it gently closed to avoid waking you and the kids.
You don't hear the engine turn over or the tires crunch across the driveway.
You are not conscious of the fact that they kissed you on the forehead before leaving, though somewhere in the back of your mind each and every morning that kiss brings you comfort.
You don't know how he or she kisses the kids, maybe gives them a hug, maybe asks God to watch over them before heading to work.
You don't know that you slept through your last opportunity to ever see them again.
You don't know this because this is the beginning of every day. A routine that you've become comfortable with. A routine that says, 'Everything is going right in my life.'
Yet, each and every day, unbeknownst to you (that's right, I said 'unbeknownst', now you know I'm getting serious), your spouse is putting their life in danger. You don't know this because, really, what danger can a plumber be in, right? Or maybe my wife is just an electrician installing new electrical service. The power isn't even on, right? Or, perhaps, my husband moves concrete around and makes it smooth. Where's the hazard in that?
You see, what you don't realize is that the construction site they've been on has been lax about keeping up the guardrails around the edges and, almost every day, your spouse is running conduit, or pouring concrete, or running wire, or doing project walkthroughs, or receiving loads of material from the crane right next to those unprotected edges. They didn't create the hazard and maybe they're not responsible for fixing the hazard, but that hazard can kill them just the same as anybody else.
The fact is, in 2011, of the more than 4000 fatalities, almost 800 were in construction. Of those, the most frequent cause of death? Falls. Despite fall protection being the most cited violation in construction, we're still getting it wrong or not bothering with it at all. Workers are uneducated in how to protect themselves or sometimes companies don't want to spend the money on the proper equipment. A harness that is designed to save my life isn't all that comfortable when worn properly, so I loosen it up, rendering it useless. Or, probably more frequently than anything else, nobody planned for it, so by the time we encounter the hazard, we don't have the proper equipment and we certainly don't have the time to worry about figuring out what needs to be done.
So, we do it anyway.
On July 17 of this year, a 53 year old worker fell to his death in Omaha. He wasn't wearing fall protection.
On July 11, a worker died after a fall from the roof of an Oklahoma hotel. He had been working alone at the time.
Another worker fell from the I-280 bridge in Toledo, OH.
On July 5, in Bridgeport, CT, a man in his late 20s working on a residential roof fell and died, leaving behind a wife and two children.
On July 23, a painter fell 75 feet to his death from scaffolding around the Mount Hope Bridge in Providence Rhode Island.
And it goes on and on. And on. And on.
But what can I do? I'm at home, or at my job. I can't possibly keep track of what they are doing each and every day.
You're right, you can't, but what you can do is ask. Take an interest in your spouse's job. Ask them what they do, ask them how they do it, and when the time comes, ask them if they do it safely.
Ask them if they have the equipment to do it safely. Ask them if they use that equipment and use it properly. Ask them if they've ever been trained.
Let them know you care what they're doing because you care about them. Ask them if they've ever thought about how you and the kids would get by if they never came home. Ask them if they've ever stopped to think about the pain you and the kids would suffer if they got a visit from your company or an emergency call saying there had been a terrible accident. Ask them if cutting corners, or looking cool, or not being willing to speak up for themselves is worth that suffering.
As a spouse, I encourage you to do this, no matter what your spouse does. People violate safety regulations and perpetuate unsafe work practices on a daily basis in EVERY industry. We, as consultants, safety professionals, and compliance officers do our best to increase awareness, to educate, to motivate, but we need your help. We want your loved ones to return home safely to you. Remind them that that is more important than anything else. Maybe that reminder will make them stop and think the next time they consider doing something unsafe. Maybe that reminder will be what saves their life.