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Safety first!

GAYS MILLS - As a high school agriculture teacher, part of my job involved instruction about safety. Tractor safety, livestock safety, electrical safety, welding and carpentry safety, farm chemical safety, and many other facets in modern agriculture were covered over the four years that most students took agriculture classes.

Important as the topics were, I could practically see the students’ eyes glaze over, as we would start a unit on safety. To be honest, safety wasn’t my favorite subject to teach either. So much of the material involved lists of common sense rules that seemed so obvious. I liken it to reading the operator’s manual of a new appliance. You know, “read all instructions before you even think about plugging in your new toaster.” And that’s once you’ve found the instructions in English among the numerous languages that manuals come in these days. If you’re like me, those instructions often get short shrift. Mea culpa.

One area I was a stickler on was the wearing of safety glasses in the shop! We had signs and firm rules about that and yet so often a student would have their glasses perched on their head. One shop teacher I knew had a small box of glass eyes he carried around. If someone wasn’t wearing their safety glasses he would ask them to select an eye they’d liked while they could still see.  Sort of morbid, but it got the point across. I used to walk up to a shop student not wearing glasses, approach them with two forked fingers and say “Safety glass check.” The smart alecs soon learned to put their flat hand up along their nose to block the mock-threatened fingers. Most of the students weren’t used to wearing glasses. The ones we supplied were plastic, got scratched up easily and became hard to see through. It was an ongoing battle.

One technique that I discovered, however, made any discussion about safety come alive. We would go around the class and every student would relate some incident that they had experienced where they had gotten hurt or injured. Everyone had a story, usually multiple stories.  It got to be almost a competition. Virtually every student could tell of  a personal accident, pratfall, near miss, embarrassing mishap, or catastrophe that had happened to them.  Not all of the students lived on farms, but that didn’t matter-they all had stories to tell. The students were riveted by their classmates’ experiences, and so was I. We were all survivors of some kind of accident.  

With the storytelling session as an introduction, we then talked about why the students’ accidents had happened. Sometimes things just happened, so-called freak accidents, but usually there were underlying factors that we could identify. Maybe the lighting was poor and a trip or a barked shin was the result. Often hurrying was the culprit. Taking shortcuts, trying to multitask, being mentally distracted can all lead to problems. By deconstructing their past accidents, hopefully the students became more aware of everyday hazards and they became safer.

Let’s be careful out there.