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Derek NelsonDerek Nelson has been writing the Friday Funnies since 2002. He also creates the Photo of the Week feature for this website. A long-time Naval Safety Center employee, he is head of the Media Division in the Communications and Marketing Department. He is author of more than 200 freelance magazine articles and ten books about Americana and military history.

Common Sense—Uncommon?

Posted August 29, 2012

It’s tempting to tell someone, “Use your common sense.” The problem is that you’re assuming that the person being addressed has some to use. With all due respect to your circle of friends, coworkers and employees, the jury is usually out on that one.

My data base mainly derives from mishap reports, which reflect (thank goodness) a mere subset of all Sailors and Marines. Still, they make you wonder. Check your own common sense as we examine a few examples.

You have to move a 3-ton truck. There’s an E-6 handy. He lacks what the mishap report categorizes as certifications, qualifications, and designations, and has had no training in driving large trucks. Do you put him behind the wheel? Somebody must have thought that was O.K., because that’s where he ended up. He promptly mistook the gas pedal for the brake pedal and crashed into a parked passenger van.

A deployed Seabee is helping build an office. Trying to attach a wood block to a ceiling joist, he needs something to brace the wood with while he fires a nail gun into it. Common-sense check: Use your knee? The BU1 did. You can still see the hole the nail made in it.

A civilian aircraft-engine mechanic in Florida has to cut some wire ties. He needs wire cutters, but opts for a razor, the mishap report says, “because it was handy.” Common-sense check: Is something necessarily O.K. just because it is convenient? He sliced open his hand. Side note: For an in-depth look at a lack of common sense combined with things that are handy, check out “The Adventures of Bucketman.”

A sergeant was (the mishap report says), “trying to make an alcohol-assisted rocket," using isopropyl alcohol as fuel. Would you agree with him that a plastic, 16-ounce soda bottle is a suitable test platform? He poked a hole in the lid and lit the alcohol that started leaking out. His face was in the second-degree-burn part of the blast zone.

If you have to transport a 12-inch by 18-inch piece of glass, would you agree with the lieutenant in Hawaii that a mountain bike would fit the bill? On the plus side he had wrapped the glass in a beach towel. However, he still lost control, crashed into a tree, and broke his knee.

Then there was the E-3 who was driving down the road and decided to test the CO2 level in his air gun, which he erroneously thought was unloaded. He shot himself in the hand. If you think cell phones are distracting, try this sometime (just kidding). "Never test fire any weapon on yourself or others," the report concluded. Honestly, would that be something you’d have to actually tell someone?

My local newspaper once ran an article about a postal-rate increase, headlined “Don’t throw away those 39-cent stamps.” Do they really have to publish articles like this?

For those of us trying to prevent mishaps, the choice is clear: Don’t plan on people having common sense. Best case, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Worst case, at least you avoided some risky assumptions.

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