For those of us old enough to remember watching the old “Lost in Space” series, who could ever forget the bumbling antics and hilarious cowardice of Dr. Smith? I used to laugh until I had tears in my eyes and my stomach hurt. However, my all time, favorite character of the show was definitely Robot. Man, he was so cool. I used to love it whenever he would warn Will Robinson of impending doom. “DANGER WILL ROBINSON! DANGER!” His metallic arms would flail about and the lights inside of his helmet head would flash.
Robot was great because he made such a ruckus about the problem that nobody (including Dr. Smith) could ignore him. Wouldn’t it be great if we had our own personal Robot to warn us from doing unhealthy, unsafe and downright dangerous things? In a sense, we do. There is something built into every person that lets us know, even if only for an instant, when we are about to do something that we probably should not be doing. Unfortunately, we don’t always listen to that inner voice and it’s fairly easy to drown it out with seemingly valid and sound arguments.
For example, I remember being stationed on my very first submarine and pulling into the exotic liberty port of Hong Kong. I was so excited! All I could think about was getting off of that boat and partying like a rock star! However, before being unleashed upon the unsuspecting island, my supervisor informed me that I would have to help chlorinate the drinking water that would be unloaded from the foreign auxiliary vessel. Simple enough. I made tracks to where we stored our chlorine (calcium hypochlorite, to be exact). In the process of unlocking the container, I happened to notice a small warning label. It said something to the extent of blah, blah, blah… ensure that proper PPE is utilized when handling… blah, blah, blah, blah… may affect breathing.. blah, blah, blah.
The thought occurred to me for the briefest of moments right before opening that last latch on the container, that maybe, just maybe, I should take that hazmat label seriously. However, with hormone-fueled thoughts of taking the town flooding my mind and clouding all rational thought, I snatched the last latch off with youthful zeal and reckless abandonment.
In that moment, I knew sheer terror. Immediately, I could not breathe and began gasping for air. Like a chicken with its head cut off, I began scrambling about to exit that space and get some fresh air. Fifteen minutes later, armed with a fresh pair of skivvies, the proper PPE, and a newfound, healthy respect for hazmat, I was able to successfully retrieve the material.
Electricians, maintenance workers, and management alike must have a healthy respect for electricity. The NFPA-70B states: “Destructive energy, capable of disintegrating an entire switchgear assembly in a matter of a few minutes, can be released in a low-voltage phase-to-phase or phase-to-enclosure, sustained arcing fault.”
In hindsight, I see that I grossly underestimated the risk involved and had mistakenly placed something else besides my life and personal safety as my highest priority. Despite my reckless negligence, I was able to go back and take a second shot at it. Electricity, however, isn’t as forgiving though; sometimes, one shot is all you get.