I mentioned Al B.’s injury in the previous post, and Tom H.’s before that, and other injuries, so it’s time to talk about workplace injuries. When I started at Brighton in 1973 it was a common sight to see men with parts of their fingers missing. Fingers seemed to be the most endangered body part. There were a lot of ways for them to be smashed or cut off. But the first major injury to happen after I started there was to William R. He was the most senior flanger operator at the time, in his late 50’s or early 60’s. He ran number 2, which then was the largest flanging machine, on first shift. He had been sent to Italy, where the company that had sold number 2 to Brighton was located, to learn how to operate the machine. He broke his leg while changing an icr roll. The icr rolls for number 2 are big. And the machine is so big you have to straddle the pit in order to change the rolls. The way you are supposed to change an icr roll on any flanging machine is to force the flanging roll against the icr roll to hold it in place while you remove the bolts, then lock the roll carriage onto the lower center post with the upper center post, then move both posts with the carriage under the icr roll, then back the flanging roll off to allow the icr roll to slide down the shaft onto the carriage. But somehow William hadn’t placed the flanging roll correctly to hold the icr roll in place while he removed the bolts. So the icr roll slid down off the shaft while he straddled the pit and hit his leg so hard it was broken. He never returned to work. I don’t know how long he was unable to work, but once his leg healed Brighton wouldn’t allow him to come back. I guess the company believed he was so old, and now hobbled, that he had become a detriment. Just one more misguided fool who thought the company couldn’t get along without him.
Thankfully, we’ve never had a fatality. But we’ve been close. The worst injuries were electrical. Whenever a welder plugs into 440 he is supposed to cut the breaker off, then plug in, then cut the breaker back on. That way he is never plugging into live 440. This one welder didn’t do that. He plugged his welder into a live outlet. Apparently the prongs on the plug on his welder were dirty with dust or oil or grease, and they shorted. He was electrocuted so severely he was nearly paralyzed. He was in the hospital for months. He eventually returned to work, but I don’t think he was ever able to walk right. Another time Bob A., a maintenance mechanic, was working on the control box on number 10 flanging machine, with the power on. We follow lock out tag out procedures. If a machine is to be worked on by maintenance, or anyone, the power is turned off and a lock is placed in such a way to prevent it from being turned back on. A tag is affixed to the lock, stating whose lock this is, so that when the machine is to be turned back on only that person has the key to that lock, so only he can removed the lock and activate the machine. That way no one can accidentally turn the machine on while someone is working on it. But there are times when the machine has to be on while maintenance is checking it out. So number 10 was live while Bob was into the control box. Dust inside the control box caused an arc of electricity to hit Bob and he was badly shocked. He was severely burned and off work for several weeks. As a result of this injury, maintenance mechanics are now required to wear full-body suits that protect them from electrical shocks while working on live machines.
There have been other injuries. Heginio C., a flanger operator, had two different fingers crushed on two different occasions on two different flanging machines, doing the same thing. He didn’t learn the first time. To check an outside circumference, most flanger operators clip a fifty-foot spooled tape to the top edge of a head, then jog the machine to rotate the head all the way around. That way they don’t have to drop the lower center post and the side rolls and release pressure from the top center post in order to spin the head by hand. Jogging the head while still locked under pressure is faster and easier. But the problem is that most flanging machines don’t have good brakes, so that when you cut the electric motor off the head will continue spinning a ways. And if the clip spins past you, the reflexive thing to do is to reach for it. In order to make the head spin when you jog the electric motor, the head is tight against the icr roll, so if the clip spins past and you reach in after it you are sticking your fingers where they are easily caught and pinched between the still-spinning roll and the still-spinning head. As I said, Higinio did this twice. Knowing how mule-headed he was, I’m sure he continued to check outside circumferences this same way even after having two fingers crushed.
Another flanger operator nearly had a finger cut off when the jib crane, which operated on air pressure, jammed while it was lifting a head out of a flanging machine, catching the hand that was holding the head as he guided it out against the top of the machine. Several people have fallen and twisted ankles or broken legs. One maintenance mechanic broke his collar bone, I don’t know how. Several other people have had shoulder injuries. I don’t know how they did it, I just remember them walking around the shop with their arms in slings. We used to have large floor model electric grinders on wheels. They started with a violent jerk. You had to hold them securely when you started them. One man had it jerk out of his grasp, and it didn’t have a kill switch, so it chewed him up pretty good before he could get away from it. We have since gone to air grinders, with kill switches. It seems every advance in safety has been a result of someone’s serious injury.