Workplace Injuries

Warning: a few of the photos below may be a bit too gruesome for some folks.

In jobs that require manual labor with your hands, workplace injuries are common, but it’s strange just how often and consistently they occur (for me at least) while locksmithing. From cuts to abrasions to missing chunks of fingernail, I usually can never figure out just how these injuries occurred. Often a job will cover my hands in blackened grease or dirt, which isn’t worth paying attention to until the work is done, and cuts and scrapes appear in the same way, but it’s the injuries that can’t go unnoticed that are the ones to worry about. Since I began working in the trade, my hands have never been unscathed, and a few new scars have popped up there and elsewhere, but injuries more severe than a cut or bruise can always be prevented with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment and by following proper procedure, a lesson that I have learned the hard way. So, I figured I would share some of these injuries with you to elucidate just how important such a lesson can be. Also, I just have some bloody pictures lying around on my phone and nothing to do with them. =]

This is a weird one that everyone that works with their hands has probably experienced: part of my fingernail went missing out of the blue! It took about six months to heal and I still have no clue why or when it happened. This sort of thing wasn’t painful for me (if you lop off a larger chunk, look forward to larger pain), but it was annoying when I needed to use my nail and realized that I hardly had one. I got lucky that I only lost a small part of my nail, there are a lot more gruesome fingernail injuries out there!

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Next up is a bone bruise on my elbow that I recently acquired. For some reason, knocking my elbow made the entire joint swell within two hours, limited my range of motion for weeks, and meant that I could hardly do my job. I walked around town handing out business cards with this injury, but could hardly persist after an hour or two because just stepping up or down from a curb on the sidewalk jostled my elbow to the point where, after doing it a bunch, it was unreasonably annoying and painful. Also, I forced myself to stay on light duty because, apparently, permanent consequences from overuse can occur such as bone spurs or a permanent limitation on range of motion. It was miserable to have to stay indoors doing nothing for such a seemingly superficial injury, but that’s what happens when you whack your elbow, I guess!

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Now, here’s the real reason for posting this at all: the bloody and macabre! I was working on a hockey-puck lock (I don’t know anything but the colloquial terminology for it), which works like any other padlock, except that the shackle is the back of a lock cylinder that is conveniently placed at the bottom of the lock to prevent drilling and the hasp is a hole that pokes out from the locked item into the rear of the lock. So, the only way to get at this is to grind through the inch or so of steel, peel it back, and drill the shackle (which doesn’t actually require any grinding. I had previously opened one of these locks in record time with just a drill bit and knowledge of the shackle’s location within the lock, but this time I forgot and broke out the grinder) or to drill out the lock cylinder itself, which is ten times out of ten inaccessible.

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This lock was for a mail box at a car rental office and the door that needed to be opened was in a confined space, shrouded by a thin wall of metal to prevent weathering, I guess. So, I broke out the angle grinder and got to work on the face of the lock, since I had forgotten that a drill bit would do the trick. All that hardened steel had to be removed before I could access the lock, and my goal was to remove a big square to access the internals. It was going pretty well…

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until the angle grinder bounced off of the lock, reverberated off of the left side of the confined space, and flew straight at my face! Suddenly I was thrust backwards from the lock and found out that my cheek had been cut.

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After going to the bathroom and bleeding all over the Enterprise office, I felt fine, so what else was there for me to do but get back to work? I had cut through the bottom of the square all the way, so I started cutting deeper into the top portion, alternating between working and texting a friend for help. I had even pulled out my crowbar, which was what finally got that square to pop out of the lock face. What really struck me as odd was that nobody in the office seemed to care, customers and employees looked at me as a spectacle and offered no help. Eventually, the job was done (which I never got paid for, thanks Magic Key) and I went to a clinic for stitches on my cheek. As they lay me down for inspection, though, it turned out that the problem was worse: I had cut my neck!

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They told me that they could not stitch me (would not!), so I drove to the ER. While there, I waited about 6 hours for my neck to be cleaned and stitched, for which they charged me about $13,000, even though they had immediately assessed the injury to be non-lethal and simple within the first thirty minutes. I wouldn’t recommend going to the hospital, because they don’t care one bit about your welfare. Anyway, it turned out that my beard had saved my life. The cut was within a centimeter of the muscle that sheathes my jugular, so if my beard had not been there to slow the progress of the blade, I probably would have stumbled into that Enterprise office and dropped dead instead of asking for a towel, haha.

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They stitched me up (very poorly) and sent me on my way, and I had to start my beard anew as a babyface. =[

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The lesson to be learned is remember proper procedure and always wear your PPE! I was wearing safety goggles, but for an angle grinder you should always use goggles AND a facemask. And if I had remembered how to most efficiently approach this lock from my own past experience, I never would have used the grinder in the first place. It’s embarrassing to know that a grievous injury like that resulted from my own stupidity, it really is, so I make it a policy to step back and think for a few minutes whenever a challenge needs to be tackled, contemplate the appropriate method and what PPE it may require.

There are a few injuries that I never took pictures of, but since I have too few pictures of a variety of injuries, I’ll go over them anyway. When I was in the Marine Corps, deployed in Afghaniland, our Entry Control Point was flooded and we had to wade through a few feet of water to get to our vehicles. The path from our tents to the ECP was walled by 7×7′ Hesco, which is just a square frame lined with burlap and filled with dirt, the same as the rest of the outpost, so for a while, before we were tasked with draining it, I would cling to the top of the Hesco and shimmy while shouting Spiderman slogans. But, then my Corporal and I were told to drain it and my Corporal’s genius idea was to hammer a pvc pipe under the 149 cubic feet of dirt. I slapped the pipe with a ten pound sledge for a while, trash talking my Corporal for having a stupid idea, and then I handed the tool over to him and immediately got whacked in the side of the knee! The sledge glanced off of the pipe and went into my knee with the full force of Corporal Dipshit behind it. Gotta love your NCOs! My Staff Sergeant, in the wake of our failure, strove for some failure of his own and dug a trench that drained all the water into the command tent, haha. Again, proper procedure and PPE!

Another tale from the Marine Corps that is only the result of a lack of the lesson I’ve subsequently learned of proper procedure and PPE is when I split my finger down to the bone on a field op. We went to the middle of an Okinawan field for Ryuku Warrior, a joint training exercise, and after a few weeks in the sun I’d developed one of those nice blistering yellow sunburns, so it was a very sweaty time. I was tasked out with hanging a sign on the entrance to the utilities tent, so I opened my knife and started cutting two holes in a plastic sleeve for a sheet of paper. My hand slipped and the knife came right down into my middle finger! All the fats and muscle were exposed and right there at the bottom was bone, it was not pretty. After getting a perfunctory dressing from the battalion aid station they sent me on my way and told me to get back to work. Since none of the docs really knew anything more than immediate treatment of wounds for the sake of keeping someone alive until evac, nobody told me “change your dressings multiple times a day” and I didn’t know any better, so I changed my dressing every other day or so for the remaining three weeks of the op. This meant that my wound was constantly saturated with sweat and thus could not heal. Thankfully, it was ultimately superficial, and I took it in stride. If you want an example of how stupid Marines can be (we’re jarheads for a reason), I would flip the bird with my wounded middle finger and say “Look at my wound!” and not a single Marine outside of my platoon saw it as anything but a middle finger saying “Fuck you.” It was hilarious, I nearly got in a few fights.

I can’t think of anything else, but I’m not thinking very hard. Proper procedure and PPE are paramount and I’d like to think that I’ve learned enough by being stupid to be careful and wise in the future.

 

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