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Forcing oneself to work safely

Hello, all–

I have what I guess you could call a work-habits issue. I have a
small studio where I work by myself making jewelry. Normally I am
very safety-conscious… but occasionally I have lapses of attention
that cause me to do potentially very dangerous things. For example,
tonight I was reaching across my workbench to put away a small jar
of acetone… the jar bumped against something and went spinning
across the room, and since the lid wasn’t tight, there was a fair
amount of spillage. Once in a while I forget my safety glasses, and I
once allowed a lit torch to get knocked out of my hand onto the floor
(a small butane torch, but a torch nonetheless). So far I have
avoided any serious consequences, but I think something will
eventually happen if I don’t stop doing this stuff.

Now, I have been thinking about what state of mind leads to these
incidents. Drowsiness? No… I do sometimes work late at night and
get drowsy, and that leads to mistakes in my work, but as far as I
can remember has never led me to neglect safety… and anyway, when I
get more than a little drowsy I just stop working. Deadline pressure?
No, pretty much the same as for drowsiness. The lapses always seem to
occur when I am “on a roll.” What seems to happen is that I am so
focused on the work that I am not really thinking about what I am
doing, or am just moving too fast, until I do something stupid.

The trouble is that these are the very times when I do my best work,
and get the most done. So, I want that productivity, but not the risk
of losing fingers or eyes, you know? So, have any found a way to
maintain that exalted crazy-productivity state while keeping in mind
the things that require caution?

Matt Gushee
Studio Yanagi

Hi Matt, you are asking to analyze why accidents occur and how to
prevent them. That’s a pretty big subject! My own hunch is that right
brain activity involves creating and the safety issue which is more
logical is more left brain activity and that accidents often occur at
the joins in the circuits but hey, I’m not sure anyone knows for sure
about this. That’s why they have such a thing called human error. We
all need to use more of our brain potential. Your jewelry is very
appealing and creative - please be careful. You are more precious
than your jewelry.

Barbara, on a little island on the east coast of Canada

Hello Matt,

I also work late into the night in my shop. I have made myself a
rule, that the first mistake, error or safety error I make, I QUIT,
STOP, and turn off all my equipment,that is still operating and
lights, go into my home and go watch tv or go to bed. This way, I
don’t get myself hurt and I don’t ruin what I am working on. I also
turn off my torches the minute I finish using it. If I need my torch
again, I can always turn it back on. I don’t want to take a chance
that I will set something on fire. I also have a metal fire cabinet,
that ALL my flammables are in the cabinet and returned to the
cabinet as soon as I use what ever I need out of it.

From what you have said, so far you have been lucky, but luck can run
out and you can get very hurt.

Veva Bailey

Hi Matt,

That’s an interesting issue. Unfortunately, my off-the-cuff answer
is ‘experience’. I know exactly what you mean about being focused on
the work, and paying very little attention to anything else. That
can be a dangerous state for a beginner.

What I mean by experience is simply that as you learn, you must
force yourself to learn to work in ways that are automatically safe,
so that if you’re distracted, the ‘safe’ way is what you do
automatically. And much of that comes with experience. Hours and
hours of doing it the ‘right’ way when you are paying attention
will help you do it safely when you’re not. (Yes, of course, you
should always be paying perfect attention, but now that we’ve gotten
that out of the way, we can go on to deal with what the real world
is like.) Think of it as patterning. You’re trying to train
yourself, or imprint a pattern of ‘proper’ activity, so that it
happens automatically.

Equally unfortunately, much of what drives these lessons home and
creates ‘experience’ is measured in blood, blisters, and band-aids.
I wish it weren’t, but the brutal truth is that nothing drives a
lesson home like having to sponge blood off the ceiling.
(Fortunately, that wasn’t my mistake, I just got to clean up while
everyone else ran off to the Emergency Room. For the record, do not
EVER get anywhere near a buffer with long hair loose, even if it’s
’only for a minute to touch something up’.) (Perhaps especially
when it’s ‘only for a second’.)

See what I mean? Bet you won’t ever get near a buffer with anything
dangling again, will you?

Experience is priceless, but you do pay in cash for it.


So, have any found a way to maintain that exalted
crazy-productivity state while keeping in mind the things that
require caution? 

As to working without safety glasses, I can’t see without
magnification and so my glasses magnify. I remember to put them on
when what I’m looking at is a blur.

Everyone should have a functioning and up to date fire extinguisher.
I have an eyewash/shower station in my shop.


Your comments “on a roll” and "exalted crazy productivity state"
describe a condition in which I sometimes find myself. When I used to
run and I knew I was approaching a personal best, I found machine-
like and fever-like energy pushing me to another level of
achievement. When I needed to stay up all night to finish a project,
something inside me took over and provided energy and concentration
from an unknown source.

I wonder if there is a medical or biological term for this. Anyone

Best, MA

I sell natural gas pressure boosters and one of the major attributes
of the product is a safer workplace, but in reality safety is a hard
sell. The most frequent comment I hear is, “I’ve been in this
business (fill in number of years) and I don’t know anyone who has
ever had an accident with natural gas.”

Most people aren’t motivated by safety until they perceive an
immediate threat to themselves, but often accidents occur without
warning and if they haven’t prepared ahead of time they suffer the
consequences. Sometimes preparing ahead means spending money but the
immediate cost outweighs the less defined future possibility of an
accident so most people prefer to take their chances in the future
and keep their money here-and-now. Safety is fine until they have to
invest in it.

Ed Howard
Sales/Marketing Manager
G-TEC Natural Gas Systems

Hi Matt,

I have a habit in my shop, I noticed while working, that I often have
minor trangsressions of safety or attention, carelessly breaking a
blade, bits not going back in thier proper place, or some other very
minor stumble. My rule is if I have three of these very minor
incidents in a work period, I stop and take a break. I do this no
matter how badly a piece needs to get finished. I do not know if it
is the solution you are looking for, but it I think it keeps me safe
from the bigger trangressions, and saves me a pile of time and money
in avoiding errors too.

Just my two cents.

Never polish an expandable watch band unless you want to lose a
finger. I nearly did this my self until the memory alarm bells went
off and I remembered the horror story. Safety first is all that
matters. Things can go wrong in a blink.