Defensive Driving

Let’s face it. We all could improve our driving. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for humans under the age of 30, and only drops to second and third cause of death up to age 65. The top three causes of vehicle accidents are speeding, driving under influence, and distracted driving. With all the drunks and careless others texting and driving, it pays to have skills in your toolbox to get home safely. The most effective tool is Defensive Driving.

 

Defensive Driving is operating your vehicle in a manner to prevent accidents in spite of the actions of others or in the presence of adverse driving conditions. It requires a constant vigilance! You watch for the illegal acts and errors of other drivers, and make timely adjustments in your own actions so that the actions of other drivers will not involve you in an accident.

 

Driving defensively is a skill I mostly developed after I started riding motorcycles. Riding a motorcycle changed my perspective on driving. The dangers are too hard to ignore when you get out of the bubble of a car or truck. The pavement is RIGHT THERE! And, it looks like it would be painful to land on.

 

SEE (SEARCH, EVALUATE, EXECUTE) is a driving strategy that I learned at a class I attended with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.  This strategy has helped me reduce factors that contribute to accidents, and is applicable to operating any vehicle.  Below you will find a summarization of the process. We strongly encourage you to learn more, and to apply the strategy in your life.

 

The first stage is SEARCH. This means to actively scan and identify factors that could increase the chance of an accident. Scan the area directly in your path, not just directly in front of you, but far ahead of you as well. Look for the three primary categories of information that should be monitored:

  1. Traffic control devices and signs
  2. Road characteristics and surface conditions
  3. Other road users

Good searching technique applies to all directions. Yes, watch where you are going, but also frequently check your mirrors.

 

The next stage is EVALUATE. This means consider potential problems arising from the interaction of the factors discovered while SEARCHing. Put simply, you try to anticipate where problems could arise, and form a plan in the event the problems… well, cause a problem.

Consider the hazards that could arise from searching for traffic control devices and signs. Think about the big picture as you evaluate, and think about other people’s perspective and what they see. Understand that other drivers may not see control devices like stop signs and traffic lights, etc. Also evaluate other road users, not just other wheeled vehicles travelling at (potentially) high rates of speed, but also pedestrians and animals. Know the limitations of your abilities (did you forget to put your contacts in this morning?), and the limits of your vehicle. Compare these limitations to the traffic and road conditions.

EVALUATING is mostly about forming potential plans of action, based on the information you collected while SEARCHing your environment. This stage is a form of risk management; try to read the information discovered while SEARCHing to create a “cushion of safety.”

 

The last E is for EXECUTE. This refers to the motor skills used to prevent or avoid the hazards, and is the stage used when a hazard presents that could cause an accident. After EVALUATING or reading a situation, you decide on a course of action and EXECUTE it. Ideally, you decide on the best course of action, but try not to second guess or pause. In the event of a problem arising, time and space are typically at a premium.

Decisions are executed in a few different ways. The most passive is communication. Communicate your intentions as time allows. Use lights, horns, hands, eye contact, etc. You can also change your speed or position. The degree to which you adjust your speed or position depends mostly on the hazard that has arisen, so try to keep as much space as possible to react.

 

Driving defensively is about taking steps to actively manage your situation and attempting to prevent other driver’s actions from causing an accident. Driving defensively requires a serious commitment. A driver must commit their constant attention to the road. Also, SEE is a process. Ideally, you are constantly searching and evaluating your options to create a “cushion.” Then, you are prepared to execute quickly.

Unsafe Conditions and Actions

How many times have you burnt yourself on a kitchen stove or nicked your finger with a knife because you had grown complacent, or were not paying attention? Or perhaps you burned yourself because you were in a hurry, tired, or thought you would get away with it because you had “been cooking for years without incident.” These accidents can be prevented by identifying unsafe conditions and then choosing safe actions.

First, let’s address: what are unsafe conditions? Conditions are the existing state of the environment around you, and the circumstances affecting the way you live or work. An unsafe condition is a condition where something exists that varies from a normal accepted safe condition. If not acknowledged, unsafe conditions can result in injury, death, or property damage.

Our kitchens have sources of heat and sharpened objects. The existence of these conditions put us at risk of an accident. Most of the time, we recognize the hazardous conditions and can adjust our actions to complete our tasks safely.

An unsafe act is the performance of a task that is conducted in a manner that may threaten the safety of yourself or those around you.

Some unsafe acts are a result of flagrant disregard of established rules, and should be reported and handled with appropriate disciplinary action. However, the majority of the unsafe acts are unintentional, and directly related to our behavior. The causes generally fall into one of the following categories:  rushing to complete a task (the most common), complacency, fatigue, and frustration.

In the workplace, unsafe acts are often attributed to perceptions of pressure for production. Have you ever heard someone say they “ignore safety rules to get the job done?” What about “bending the rules that involve little or no risk?”

We all know that there must be a cause for an incident to happen. Causes of incidents are tied to both unsafe conditions and acts. Returning to the example in our kitchen, how many of us have stood on a narrow stool or chair to reach the top shelf in our cabinets, rather than take the time to get a step ladder? The unsafe act of standing on an unsteady chair would not exist if the condition (the height of the top shelf, or the lack of go-go-gadget human arms) did not exist.

Learning to properly identify unsafe conditions and adjusting our actions appropriately helps us safely navigate our homes and workplaces.

As always, talking about the safety of the conditions surrounding us reduces the chances for incidents. Work with your coworkers to identify unsafe conditions. And if you see an unsafe act performed, or about to be executed, please speak up!

Hazards of Acetylene

Acetylene is the most commonly used gas for fueling cutting and welding torches.  The very molecular structure of acetylene is what makes the gas both ideally useful and hazardous. Each molecule consists of two carbon atoms and two hydrogen atoms that are held together by a triple carbon bond. This unstable bond stores a lot of energy. When acetylene is mixed with oxygen and the bond is broken, the result is the high temperatures needed to melt metal alloys. The temperature of the flame from the mixture can reach over 5700°F!

Generally, the men and women who use acetylene torches are familiar with the fire hazards associated hot flames and the production of hot slag. However, there are many unique characteristics of acetylene itself that create special hazards compared to other fuel gases. This gas has the widest explosive range of any commonly used gas. When mixed with air, the explosive range is from 2.5% to 82%. Acetylene leaks, no matter how small, can have serious consequences.

Some tips for safely using and storing acetylene:

  • Always use acetylene in a well vented area, and never in a confined space.
  • When using around electrical equipment, research the National Electric Code’s special designation for using electrical equipment around acetylene.
  • Acetylene should never be allowed to come into contact with certain metals such as unalloyed copper.
  • Do not store or use acetylene at pressures greater than 15 psi. Cylinder pressures are rated for 250 psi but this is acceptable because the gas is dissolved in acetone.)
  • Bleed the gas from the regulator by closing the cylinder valve before shutting off the regulator, to permit gas to bleed from the regulator.
  • Always cap and secure stored cylinders upright to prevent them from falling over and damaging the valve or cylinder.
  • Acetylene cylinders are not hollow. They are packed with porous rock that is saturated with acetone. Acetylene is dissolved in the acetone. As a result, cylinders should only be used or stored in an upright position. This prevents possibility of the acetone leaking from the cylinder. If this is not possible, rest the cylinder upright for one-half hour before using. This prevents liquid acetone from running through your regulator during use.
  • Do not store cylinders near open flames or electrical equipment. Never store acetylene, or any other fuel gas, within 25 feet of oxygen cylinders. If this separation is not possible, erect a noncombustible (1/2-hour fire rated) partition, at least five feet high, between the two gases in storage.

Remember, improperly handling compressed gases can lead to serious fires, explosions, or releases due to pressure buildup in cylinders or reactions with other materials. Always use correct procedures for handling and using acetylene gas. Talking about the hazards and proper handling and storing procedures with your coworkers reduces the risk of an incident.

Heat Illness: symptoms and when to seek medical attention

It’s certainly been hot in the South the last few weeks. One of the things we stress around this time of year is staying healthy in the summer heat. This week’s safety topic is heat illness. Below is information on avoiding heat stress and recognizing symptoms of heat illness.

Preventing heat illness:
1. If you can’t avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day, rest frequently in a cool spot and drink fluids. When possible, schedule exercise or labor for cooler parts of the day. Also, limiting time spent in heat until you’re conditioned to it. It can take several weeks for your body to get acclimated.
2. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. This will help replace the fluid you are losing body sweat. Sweating helps your body maintain a normal body temperature in the heat.
3. Make sure your clothing is light weight and fits loosely. Wearing excess clothing or clothing that fits tightly won’t allow your body to cool properly.
4. Apply sunscreen often and liberally, because sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself. When possible, add protection with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

  Listen to your body, try to pay attention and notice when you feel overheated, weak, or irritable. These are subtle indicators that you need a break. Other, more severe symptoms of heat illness to watch for are dizziness, nausea, and muscle cramps.

Use extra caution when taking medications or have a condition that increases your risk of heat-related problems. Talk to employers, coworkers, family, and friends about your medications or conditions so they can help watch for signs of heat stress.

Also, keep an eye on those around you for symptoms of heat illness. If caught early, heat stress can often be treated at home or work with rest in a cool spot and drinking fluids.

Seek medical assistance for the following symptoms:
1. Nausea or vomiting that prevents rehydration. IV fluids may be necessary.
2. Severe muscle cramps that cannot be relieved with re-hydration and stretching.

Seek EMERGENCY medical attention (Call 911!) if an individual shows any of the following symptoms:
1. Stops sweating
2. Becomes confused
3. Has a seizure or heat stroke.

 These are indicators of life threatening conditions. After you call 911, carry the individual to a cool place, remove their clothing and attempt to cool their body with a combination of cold compresses, or spraying/sponging the body with cool water and fans or circulating air.

 Knowing the signs of heat exhaustion could save your life or the life of someone you care about. Share this information and talk about heat illness so that we can keep each other safe all summer.

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