Fatigue can lead to goof-ups

Home Work

November 11, 1995|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

There's no substitute for experience, but sometimes you don't want what it has to offer.

Not long ago Randy was working on a friend's roof. There was an accident -- not a fancy accident, just a basic, run-of-the-mill accident that can happen on a construction job: The guy he was working with fell off the roof. The house was one story and not that high. You wouldn't think a fall would be catastrophic. But it doesn't take much of a fall to cause problems.

Last year Randy was in a basement late one evening trying to put the finishing touches on a kitchen renovation. The electrician had forgotten to make a simple connection in the electrical panel and the owner wanted the west wall outlets live that evening. Randy accidentally touched a screwdriver to the screw of a live breaker, knocking himself to the floor without making a conscious effort to sit down.

What do these accidents have in common?

They both occurred because workers were ignoring basic safety tenets.

On the roof, there was a rush on; they were trying to get the house under cover before a storm broke. Randy's friend stepped on the edge of a tarp and slid off the roof. He seriously dislocated his shoulder and surgery seems to be on the horizon.

The accident happened because they were working in a situation that was inherently dangerous. They weren't wearing safety belts because they were moving around a lot, trying to work quickly to avoid major leaks in the house, and because the tarp they were putting down could have gotten tangled with the belts.

Storm or not, the sensible course is to slow down and give safety its due. Accidents happen when people hurry, lose concentration and take their eyes off their work. A little rain in the house is nothing compared with a rotator cuff operation.

The shocking basement incident occurred because it was way past quitting time and Randy was tired. The same things that cause mistakes cause accidents. A lot of aspects of construction can be dangerous. It seems simple, but when your mind is set on finishing a task, it's hard to say stop. But you need to stay alert, cool off when it's hot or warm up when it's cold, quit working when you're not at your best. Pay attention to your body: If you start having trouble remembering measurements, losing tools you had just a moment ago, stumbling over things, stop working.

Construction tools, especially power tools, can also be dangerous, and increasingly powerful versions are becoming available to do-it-yourselfers. It's possible to go into a home-supply store and buy a compressor and an air gun -- a tool that could be as deadly in the wrong hands as a semi-automatic handgun. Even a few years ago, these tools were sold only in building supply stores, accessible pretty much only to construction professionals.

Homeowners especially need to set realistic time frames for finishing a project. If you set an unrealistic goal, you are setting yourself up for fatigue, rushing and possible injury. You have a week off and want to add a room to the house? You may not be able to get it done. Give yourself a cushion. If it's 9 p.m. and you're just getting ready to fire up the power tools, you may want to wait till morning.

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