Just for a change of pace, this month I’d like to share an event that I found incredibly wild—one where the outcome could and should have been worse than what actually happened. I’ve alluded in the past to my disdain for the phrase “freak accident”. My standard retort to that is, “As opposed to a planned one?”
When people refer to freak accidents, I understand that they are making reference to unplanned results or happenstances. However, I have encountered numerous freaky unforeseen incidents. Seldom do I find humor in any accident; however, one incident stands out.
There was one time I was driving around doing surprise inspections when I received a call about a freshly reported incident. The accident itself was not freaky; however, the way it was reported was incredibly unusual. The names of the innocent (company, personnel, location, and time frame) have been changed for obvious reasons—to protect the innocent.
As I was driving in the back country looking for certain well servicing rigs for rig audits, I received a frantic call from an unknown number. This person was indicating that a reverse pit operator had been standing on the walkway of a reverse pit. (That’s where they sometimes stand.) While he was monitoring fluid levels, cuttings, etc., he elected to light up a cigarette, while standing next to a sticker on the pit that stated “No Smoking.” Imagine that! He was an experienced hand that had been doing that for numerous years without incident. Therefore his experience corroborated that the sign was only a precautionary measure.
Here we go! The operator indicated that he had hit a pocket of gas that was about to circulate through the pit. Without thinking (too late for that) he thumped the lit cigarette out of his hand and the wind took it into the pit. There was an explosion as the pit ignited as he was jumping off—or blown off—the walkway.
Fast forward to my phone call as I was only a few miles from the location. I could see smoke in the distance. There was something burning and the rig operator said, “Dusty! This is rig number @/& and we had the reverse pit operator blown off the walkway pit!”
Me: Is he burned? Is he okay? Is he alive?
Rig operator: Yes, he’s kind of okay!
Me: What do you mean by “kind of”? How bad was the explosion?
Rig operator: Well, he lost his leg!
Me: Did you initiate a call for an ambulance?
Rig operator: No sir, we took him in the doghouse!
Me: OMG! I’m rounding the corner now!
I drive up and they had extinguished the fire in the pit and the fire in the surrounding grass. Hopping out of the truck I asked how the employee was. “He’s in the doghouse smoking a cigarette but we couldn’t save his leg!”
Me: And he’s smoking? He must be one tough son of a gun!
The operator said: “The leg he lost was too burned up to save!”
At this point I’m mad and slightly panicking over their inability to take care of the injured employee.
As I go into the doghouse, he’s cool as a cucumber and I asked him how he was doing! He was sitting on the bench and he said, “I’m fine, but I’m ticked off about my prosthetic leg that burned and got ruined.”
It was the longest report that I ever filled out. In spite of him ignoring the rules, I still wrote him up for disobeying safety rules. I wrote up the operator for allowing him to smoke around the pit.
The company replaced his prosthetic leg. Now after 20-some-odd years I can chuckle when I speak of this event because it is too surreal.
I promise you I’m not pulling your leg! And I maintain the various parties’ anonymity to protect the innocent.
- Get all of the facts before jumping to conclusions.
- Don’t smoke around flammable fumes.
- Accidents are prevented in the field, not in an office.
- Inspect what you expect.
- It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
- Don’t rely on luck.
- It could be based on true fiction.
- I’m not pulling your leg.
Again, there is no humor in having an accident. When a person starts a story with, “You aren’t going to believe this, but…” that’s your clue to be ready for anything.
As always, in baseball, it’s not how many hits you have that counts. It is how many times you get to home safely.
Dusty Roach is a safety professional based in Midland. He is also a public speaker on subjects of leadership and safety, and he maintains a personal website.