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Common Sense

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- While many articles on safety are limited to one specific subject such as driving under the influence or using a grill too close to a building, this article will focus on what I consider the greatest tool to fight safety mishaps: common sense. 

Statistics have consistently shown that the 101 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day have much higher rates of preventable mishaps than the rest of the year. If only the people involved had spent a second to think about the possible outcomes of their actions. What if they had used their common sense? Perhaps we would not need to attend briefings on workplace and recreational safety, allowing us to focus on the mission. 

I am going to tell a story about a safety accident that happened to me when I was in high school and working as a busboy at one the many seafood restaurants along Florida's Gulf Coast. 

This particular restaurant was built right onto the beach and stood on 10-to-12 foot stilts. I was responsible for emptying the garbage cans at the end of the night. The dumpsters were located at ground level on the far side of a concrete pad and enclosed by a wooden fence. Our process for emptying these cans was to heave these heavy garbage bags off the catwalk, over the railing and into the dumpsters below. 

One evening, as I was tossing garbage bags below, I picked up a bag that was particularly heavy. Lifting the bag up and over the railing, it came to me that the bag wouldn't quite make it. I made a quick decision to hold onto the bag and give it another go. What I overlooked was that my weight was almost entirely balanced on the catwalk railing and my feet were barely touching the slick floor. Physics prevailed and I began falling the railing. 

At this point, I let go of the bag, but it was too late. In a desperate attempt to save myself, I tried to grab the railing. My body cart-wheeled onto the ground and I landed on my left side. As I peeled myself off of the concrete slab I could only mutter a pathetic "ouch."
My lack of common sense was rewarded with three stitches in my thigh where I was stabbed by one of my own car keys, and scrapes along my face, arm and leg. Another reward was the scornful looks of disapproval from my fellow co-workers because of the changed garbage dumping procedures. 

How many opportunities were presented where common sense could have been used to prevent this safety mishap? If I had only taken a second to think before I tossed the bag. If I had only considered how little an inconvenience it would have been to walk the garbage down the stairs compared to the emergency room visit and bill. If only a manager considered the potential lawsuit each time he saw an employee engage in this unsafe practice. Granted, I only carry a little scar for my irresponsibility and laziness, but 19 Airmen lost their lives in the summer of 2007 due to their own and others' lack of common sense. 

Common sense is not a tool to be used just between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Rather it is given to us for use in every single thing we do. From now on, each time you order that beer or light that grill, each time you put your car in reverse in the parking lot or unlock your bicycle, take a moment to consider the consequences of your actions. Use your common sense and do the safe thing.