December 2012 #3: Why Rum Isn’t the Same as a Compass and Insulation
1. Welcome to the latest edition of the Summary of Mishaps. This week we offer the full spectrum: a situation where they tried to keep something from getting worse but failed, one where they didn’t try but the results weren’t too bad, and one where they didn’t try and it got real bad.
A. In Washington state, a civilian materials handler was doing an inventory behind some roller shelves. The floor was uneven, which is why something the report identified as a “warning board” had been installed. Alas, the worker tripped over it and broke his ankle.
He said he couldn’t walk but didn’t need an ambulance, contradictory statements that nevertheless added up to seven weeks off work and nine weeks of LIMPDU.
I’m pretty sure that a warning board isn’t supposed to be a tripping hazard (if it was, you’d need to install warning boards for the warning boards). Either way, we’re getting one for the Summary of Mishaps Museum, where we will install it next to the “safety pole” that a distracted lance corporal crashed into while riding his bike home from work. He broke his leg.
B. The mishaps we select to summarize generally involve situations where things have gotten worse. They aren’t the “Whew, dodged a bullet that time” situations. But so many times, things could have easily gotten much worse. Consider, for example, the following drama, which took place aboard a frigate moored in a shipyard.
An E-1 boatswain’s mate was part of a working party tasked with hoisting a 300-pound spool of line. The spool was sitting on the starboard side of the main deck. The goal was to move it to an overhead storage compartment. The fly in the ointment was the shackle that was supposed to connect the block pulley to the overhead pad eye. Because it wasn’t fully threaded, it backed out, allowing the block pulley to fall onto the E-1’s hand.
Net: One broken finger, 19 days of light duty, and a painful lesson on why you shouldn’t stand under suspended objects, whether they weigh 300 pounds or 30 pounds.
As if to dramatize this point, I coincidentally got a collection of silly newspaper headlines the other day. One of them read, “Worker Suffers Leg Pain After Crane Drops 800-Pound Ball on His Head.” Don’t plan on getting off so easily.
C. And now, I’d like to invite you to take a short break from the concerns of 2012 and head back with me to 1768, joining British explorer James Cook during his first great voyage of exploration. A botanist named Joseph Banks was frustrated by Cook’s consistent refusal to interrupt the voyage for plant-collecting expeditions. Cook finally relented and allowed Banks to go ashore in the Le Maire Strait at the bottom of South America.
Banks and a group that included naturalist Daniel Solander, the ship’s astronomer, the ship’s surgeon, an artist, a pair of sailors and some servants headed inland. Banks sent a message to cook that they’d be back for dinner, a promise that turned out to not be true in more ways than one.
Halfway up the hills above the bay where Endeavour had anchored, the explorers left forest and entered a marshy thicket of small birch trees. The sunny day turned cold. The artist suffered a seizure. Banks ordered a sailor and two servants to build a fire and stay with him. Snow began to fall and the wind kicked up. Day turned to night. An exhausted Solander lay down in the snow and refused to keep going, so Banks had him taken to a sheltered spot where a servant named Dorlton built a fire.
Meanwhile, another servant had gotten lost, so Banks told Dorlton and one of the sailors to go find him. He gave them a bottle of rum to use for first aid and as internal insulation in the freezing temperatures. When they found the missing servant, the three proceeded to get so drunk they couldn’t find their way back to the shelter. The sailor wandered around until he found Banks (possibly he’d spent more time functioning under the influence of rum). The two servants, however, froze to death.
2. That’s all for this week, amigos. See you next time for our annual rounds of New Years resolutions.
December #2: Two More Mishap Mysteries
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