Jul 1, 2001 12:00 PM,
Graphic imagery of pain and injury is intended as a reminder that job safety should be your first priority on any install.
Work gloves, shatterproof protective glasses, proper dress, a face mask and some common sense separate horror from success.
GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO “SCARY Tales from the Job Site.” Folks who install security systems, as with many occupations, run the risk of being injured on the job. And remember that, as with skiing, bungee jumping or parasailing, the seriousness of an injury is directly proportional to your perception of your own invulnerability. If you truly believe you will never get hurt, you will eventually end up on a gurney with a first-year medical student stitching you up.
I know because I speak from experience. You can never be too familiar with the practices that protect your person while on the job. Although what follows contains graphic imagery of pain and injury, please understand that it is intended as a reminder that job safety should be your first priority on any install.
Let us start by looking at the basic tools used to install a security system. Though there are many different tools in a security installer’s truck, the drill motor, the hammer, the soldering iron and the wire strippers are the first four that come to mind.
SOME BITS ABOUT DRILLING
The drill motor, when held by the experienced installer, is a powerful tool. Drill bits ranging in size from inch in diameter to 6 feet in length make hardware mounting and cable running a snap. Beginners should avoid the “Lock” button feature, located next to the finger trigger on a drill motor. I don’t even know why it is there in the first place, except to test the strength of your wrists when the drilling surface grabs hold of the drill bit and bites down hard. Most drilling is done using sporadic and speed-controlled activations. The only time anyone should even consider locking the trigger down is when a 6-foot-long drill bit is snaking its way from one floor to the next; and even then, it may not be the best practice.
Keep the tips of your drill bits sharpened and clean. This allows smooth, clean penetration of the drilling surface. If you are drilling up into a doorjamb or metal frame, wear eye protection. Metal shards and wood shavings can slide in under the eyelids and camp out there for a few hours until rinsed away. It sounds like common sense, but hurried people overlook the simplest precautions and suffer for it later.
A Hair-Razing Experience
Keep your hair away from the spinning shaft of the long drill bit. Short hair is not as much a concern as someone with ponytail potential. I once watched a young man lock down the button on a drill motor that was sporting a 6-foot bit as it was boring up into a floorboard from a basement. He looked over at me as he was drilling, and a length of his hair quickly wrapped around the shaft of the drill bit. Seconds later, a patch of scalp the size of a quarter was spinning around the shaft, distributing drops of blood everywhere. He was never quite the same afterwards.
Hair is not the only concern. Any time you wear loose-fitting, untucked clothing, you risk having them caught around a drill motor or the shaft of a drill bit. Jewelry can also cause accidents. Loose necklaces and bracelets can get caught and ripped off if you are not careful. In addition, metal rings and watches have been known to conduct electricity when least expected. Be aware of your clothes and accessories before you begin to work, and always dress appropriately. If you’ve got long hair, tie it back and tuck it under a hat. Wait until after work to wear any baggy clothes and chains.
Frayed or cracked power cords are subject to shorts and can cause AC jolts to the central nervous system. If you have more electrical tape than exposed power cord, it is time to replace the cord. And let’s face it, removing the ground plug at the end of any power cord to allow 2-prong insertion into an old outlet is just begging for trouble. The ground plug may save your life, and removing it endangers you.
Another suggestion for power/extension cords: Keep the excess cord wrapped and set somewhere with minimum foot traffic. All too often, an extended loop of a cord is discovered by a fast moving foot, and gravity takes over. It is a good idea to wrap your power cords in a single-looped, crochet-styled string. This method provides a quick and tangle-free unwrapping of the cord. And it is an easier way to store it away in the truck.
HAMMERS, IRONS AND STRIPPERS
Hammers should come with little target stickers for your thumb and forefingers. Then at least, you’d have the consolation of having hit a bull’s eye after the pain subsides. Hammers should be used to drive nails and drive-rings, not screws and screwdrivers, into wood. The claw at the end of the head should be used to remove nails, not cut, strip or flatten cables. If a hammer has a chipped head or damaged handle, replace it with a safer one.
Once Burned, Twice Shy
Soldering irons have developed a taste for human flesh. If the tip of a soldering iron is capable of melting solder when hot, it will not think twice about growing large blisters on your fingers.
I was crawling along a wire-run for carpet mats, spot-soldering my connections, minding my own business, when my knee landed on the iron’s cord and pulled the non-insulated part of the iron into the palm of my hand. Because I was not paying attention, I spent the next hour with my hand wrapped in an ice bag.
Unplugging the iron after extended use does not immediately cool it down either. Sounds like an obvious statement, but tell that to the guy who thought (only for a moment) the pencil-styled iron was a real pencil and held it between his lips. I will spare you the description of his mouth when he realized his mistake.
If you go the inexpensive route of using a disposable lighter to heat solder for splices, take that extra second to ensure the flame goes out when the activation wheel or switch is released. Solder tends to drip and can hold the fuel line open if it lands inside the flame end of the lighter. If you do not check for that, you may slip it into your shirt pocket and warm up the few remaining chest hairs you have left.
“Wire” You Bleeding?
Wire strippers are designed to cut and peel back the outer rubber jackets on wires and cables. The pair of sharp blades are also capable of slicing through the meaty part of your thumb (I call that “strippers thumb”) or the flesh between your fingers. When held and operated correctly, wire strippers are much better than teeth or the sharp edge of a pair of dikes. People who gnaw their way through wire insulation must have a first-class dental plan because nothing is quite as unpleasant as biting through a shielded wire and crushing the foil wrap between two fillings.
MORE TOOLS OF TERROR
A ladder not only helps attain new heights, it also opens up great opportunities to fall down. Proper placement and safe angles prevent the ladder from sliding out from under you while you’re 20 feet up working on a splice or device. Having someone at ground level with his or her feet against the ladder feet is always preferred. If you suddenly notice the splice or device slowly moving up the wall, you can be sure it means you are slowly sliding down the wall. Relax and ride it out; there is no other option.
Hacksaws and other tools with ripping teeth are also worthy of our respect. Each time the barb-laden strip slides back and forth across a surface, more of the surface disappears into tiny particles. Once, at a location that needed a strip of conduit added to a pool-area’s security, I was cutting the pipe into proper lengths, and a young lady caught my eye. I adopted a certain machismo (and carelessness) in my sawing as I watched her walk by. That’s when the entire length of the hacksaw I was wielding jumped up from the pipe and sliced through the skin on my knuckles. Not wanting to blow my image, I casually mentioned the need for a cloth to wrap my hand in as I calmly strolled into the building. Once safely inside, I allowed the pain to govern my actions and yelped like a bullwhipped dog.
Carpet-tack strips are another reason to watch what you are doing. The teeth of the tack are angled towards the wall to grip and hold the carpet in place. One nick on the pinky finger can result in a swollen mess if not treated properly.
A pair of lightweight work gloves, a pair of shatterproof protective glasses, proper dress and hair care, a face mask and some common sense make the difference between horror and success. The one theme you may have picked up here is that most of these injuries are the result of a rushed job. I have experienced most of these injuries (although I do have my entire scalp present and accounted for), and each one could have been avoided if I had only slowed down and exercised a little caution. To summarize, everyone’s safety practice should include: 1) proper preparation, 2) respect and awareness around the tools you use, and 3) attentiveness and patience with what you are doing.
Steve Filippini is a senior security technician with 20 years of experience in the security installation industry. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Things in the Attic
If a ladder is used to gain access into an attic or crawl space, extra caution is required. If the attic is unfinished, walk only on the exposed 2×4 studs. If the attic greets you with freshly blown insulation, carefully use your feet to push it aside to expose the support studs. If the attic floor is covered with sheet-rock, walk on the nails. Sheet-rock is nothing more than flat chalk. If you can easily drive your fist through it, imagine how little it will resist with your standing weight on it. Arm yourself with a flashlight (fresh batteries are a bonus), and scope out the area before taking a single step. You do not want to be surprised by a wasp nest or exposed nails from roof shingles that protrude inside the ceiling.
Face masks should be used whenever crawling through freshly blown insulation. Those fibers get in your lungs, and you will swear you breathed in a glass fur-ball. If you are crawling around in such an attic and it is hot, carry a spare mask. Sweat from your face will moisten the mask and cause the insulation to stick to it, reducing the amount of clean air available.