Have you ever heard someone say, “That’s an accident waiting to happen”? I’m not entirely on board with that saying. When I see a jobsite with extension cords and air hoses strewn about, a table saw surrounded by off cuts, or someone who’s hair or clothes is hanging in the path of their circular saw, I don’t think those are accidents waiting to happen. My definition of an accident is an unintended or unexpected result. All those things mentioned? I consider them active practices that assure injury. I’ve been guilty of every one.

It takes work to stay safe while building. I was talking recently with a friend who roofs. Their crew had a discussion about fall gear, weighing the pros and cons — in essence, a risk management assessment. They were looking at their practice and weighing whether tethers and harnesses would add to or detract from their safety. Tethers and harnesses will hopefully stop a fall, but their questions were, will the lines become a tripping hazard and make a fall more likely? Would wearing the gear add a sense of security that would in turn lead to being less careful? Their discussion was an excellent example of jobsite safety. They were aware of the danger, and consciously discussing and implementing what for them was best practice. Every one of their lives was at stake, so everyone was part of the discussion.

Enthusiasm can occasionally work against safety. In the early ’90s I was helping friends raise a timber frame. It was late in the day when I found myself standing on sketchy staging with four massive and mildly drunk guys. They really wanted to lift one final beam in place. I took a look at what we were standing on, the beam to be lifted, and the general blood alcohol content of the participants, and said, no way. To everyone’s relief, it was received well. Having someone voice a concern acted as a moment to regroup and for everyone to realize, yeah, this is a bad idea.

I’m unqualified to discuss safety equipment much beyond safety glasses and ear protection, but do have a decent handle on good practice. In my 37 years of building I’ve only ended up in the emergency room once, and knocked myself out perhaps three times. The emergency room visit was the result of foolishly placing my hand in the possible path of a utility knife. The knife took that path and the top half inch of my finger. Amazingly it grew back. The various concussions were the result of walking hard into low solid objects, and dropping large sheets of sheetrock on myself from homemade lifting jigs. Shortly after that I learned about a tool called a sheetrock lift. I also learned to keep my hands out of the way of sharp knives, and just haven’t been around as many head-bangy objects. The things key to jobsite safety are maintaining both awareness and a clean, organized site. Those loose cords and air hoses need to be run in a path out of traffic flow. Keep the area around your table saw clear so there’s no risk of tripping while using the saw. Make sure your hair is tucked up out of the way, and your clothing doesn’t stand a chance of getting near your circular saw. It’s also a really good idea, especially when working alone, to have someone you can check in with. Someone who knows where you are and who would send help if you are overdue to check back in at the end of the day.