Safety First

My first full time employment was at Essex International in DuQuoin, Illinois.  Essex manufactured wire harnesses for Chrysler trucks.  Throughout the factory there were a multitude of signs that admonished everyone, ‘Safety First.’  In fact the signs were posted in the rest room and the break area.  As a 17 year old, I marveled at the companies concern for my well being.  I was secure in the patently posted commitment to my safety and the safety of my co-workers.  I began working about this time of year…and it was hot.  The only area in the massive building that was air-conditioned was the management offices.  We line workers became progressively hotter as the day progressed.  I became so hot that my socks would slip down to the toe of my shoes.  On break and lunch I would pull them back up…only for them to slip down again.  On one day, the outside temperature was over 100 degrees.  I was one of a handful of men that were working in the building.  I watched as woman after woman…fainted from heat exhaustion, and subsequently were taken away by ambulance.  Working our round production line, called a carousel, was the business agent for our union.  She announced to me that she was going to the General Manager’s office and that she would shut the building down!  I pondered that I was working with a powerful colleague!  My friend was gone for several minutes and when she returned I inquired if we were all going to be able to go home due to the extreme, health hazard heat.  She replied that we were not…but that anyone of us could leave….and not loose our job…and there would be no pay…

I transferred to a position, in the factory, that was called, Dip Solder, which entailed standing in front of a molten container of liquid solder.  It was my job to dip the chrome eyelets that were fastened on the end of the wire harnesses into the bubbling metal alloy.  When I did dip…the 1,500 degree mixture popped onto my clothes and in my hair and skin.  It left an angry red welt on my skin and a hole each time it landed on my clothing.  The only eye protection that I had…was my glasses.  After about two weeks the foreman came to see me and asked me why I was not wearing the protective apron and goggles and gloves that had been issued me for the dangerous job that I had been assigned.  I responded that no one had issued me any protective gear…and I wondered if it was his job to do so.  He responded that he would retrieve my required PPE…and bring it to me tomorrow.  On the following day he gave me some goggles, as my glasses were ruined, and said that he was going to have to locate the apron and gloves….which I never received…

So, we are preparing to begin the opening of some businesses and day care facilities and related establishments.  Let us not, in our expediency to return to work, or to partake of a meal in a restaurant, or enjoy a day on the beach…forget what we have been taught by our countries preminent medical professionals.  I watched the president recommend the wearing of face masks to protect those with whom you come in contact with…several weeks ago…  I saw the same president make fun of and belittle a reporter who would not remove his mask…to ask him a question…

The sooner that we all realize that we are in this for the long haul…and that nothing about a pandemic is easy…the safer we will be!  In our town restaurants will soon be able to serve patrons dining al-fresco.  In Carbondale…that will take some planning and work to facilitate.

When I learned that 2+2=4…I remembered it.  I am 62 1/2 and 2+2 has never = 5…  I am afraid that it is not manly or masculine to ignore the health and lives of those with whom you encounter.


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