Tuesday, May 20, 2008

i was the one furiously taking notes

Before I keep diving in to organizational tips, which believe you me - I will continue to do - I want to quickly jot down some thoughts on a meeting I attended today. Actually, it wasn't a meeting so much as it was a training session. Regardless, I learned a lot that I thought was important enough to pass on.

The session I attended was an 8-hour "refresher" course for HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) which is required for my job. Ever since having first obtained my 40-hour HAZWOPER certification in 1996, I have attended this 8-hour refresher course which is required to keep my certification - every year - for the past 12 years.

Sometimes, the course is so boring I will run a brand new pen completely out of ink drawing figure eights in my handouts. Other times, like today, the class is so fascinating - I am perched on the edge of my chair waiting to hear what the instructor will tell us next.

For the most part, we watched movies of catastrophic work place events that were completely preventable, in rapid succession. This was really troublesome because NONE of these events should have happened and as a mother, I kept thinking, "What if that was my child, inside?"

We saw footage of the Texas City fire at the BP Refinery in March of 2005 which claimed the lives of 15 people. We then watched a re-creation of the rocket fuel explosion at the Pepcon facility in Henderson Nevada in May of 1988. Here's the video. Sadly, the man that made the call to 911 was wheel chair bound from polio and perished in the explosion. We watched a video on a propane tank facility explosion in Korea. And then we watched a video on the fire at the EQ facility in Apex, North Carolina in October of 2006, that required the evacuation of 16,000 townspeople.

At one point, my co-worker leaned over to me and whispered "Holy Crap. This is like disaster porn."

We learned that up until recently (and perhaps even still?) many hard candies have high levels of lead because the molds used to make the candy are made with lead, and when the hot liquid is poured in, the lead leaches out. And the acidic content of the candy can cause further leaching.

We learned that much of the jewelry from the Oriental Trading Company and Limited Too, were made with between 87% and 100% lead. So, if a child ingests a clasp on the necklace - it could be fatal. Sure, much of this stuff was recalled last year. But I didn't get that memo.

Did you??

The maximum lead allowance is 0.06%, or 600 parts per million. However, the levels that were showing up in various toys were 11% or 110,000 parts per million. Almost twice what has been allowed by law for the past 30 years. This is why I believe in playing with natural wood toys and giving our kids pots and pans and a spoon to bang them with. This is also why I've spent the past 30 minutes evaluating all the toys on the Parents Recall website (for the past few years), to insure none of those items are in our home.

We learned about safe tips for fueling your vehicle. Things like ... explosions from static electricity igniting gasoline are a lot more common than one might think and 78% of those explosions involve women who are either getting in to their car while they are pumping gas to check on their children, grab their purse - or get out of the weather. We learned that to safely fuel your vehicle you should:

1) Always shut off the vehicle.

2) Once you've started pumping fuel, do NOT re-enter the car. Remaining outside of your vehicle will help to insure that you do not overflow your tank, and also - will decrease the chance of static electricity building up.

3) If you do need to re-enter your vehicle, touch either the metal door of your car - or the dispenser - to discharge the static, BEFORE you touch the gas nozzle.

4) Never leave the nozzle unattended.

5) Never smoke. (Preferably never ever. But definitely not when you are fueling up.)

6) Put away your cell phone. Although there have been no documented cases of cell phones causing an explosion at a dispenser, it could happen.

7) Do not overfill the tank or "top" off.

8) Use only the latch on the nozzle for holding the nozzle open. Don't pry a rock or keys in to the equipment.

9) Get fresh air/ventilation. Do your best to minimize inhalation of gasoline vapors.

10) If there is a fire from the nozzle leading in to your gas tank, DO NOT remove the nozzle. Instead, identify the emergency shut-off switch for the dispensers (usually located on the side of the gas station, by the door) and turn them off. Of course you'd also want to notify the attendant.

You'd think that since I work for a major oil company - I'd know how to safely fuel my car. But alas, it's only by the Grace of God I haven't been burned to a crisp because I always, always, ALWAYS return to sit in my car whenever I fuel up. But after watching several videos today where uninformed people would start to fuel up - return to their car - exit their car - touch the nozzle and cause a shock - ignite the fuel - pull the nozzle out and be instantly engulfed in flames ... I so solemnly swear I will never leave the nozzle again while it is delivering petrol to my vehicle.

I also know, from first hand experience, that if you ever have an oil fire while cooking, it's best to put the lid back on the pan and turn off the heat. My best friend in high school and I discovered that putting our burning french fries under water will only cause the flames to grow from 6-inches to SIX FEET and create an inferno which will ignite grass wallpaper.

That incident which cost several thousand dollars of smoke and fire damage, was the last time I was left at home on a Friday night for years.

We learned that one of the most common causes of death in workplace accidents (where chemicals are involved), is because one person succumbs to vapors and passes out ... and another person sees the downed person and tries to rescue them before succumbing to vapors and passing out. So the lesson here is, if you see someone passed out in a chemical plant - or where you are unsure of the atmospheric conditions - it's best to not rush in and try to save them until you know what you are dealing with.

And oh ... if you are in a part of the country where you have 911?

ALWAYS CALL FROM A LAND LINE. And if the line to 911 is ringing and ringing and you don't think anyone will ever answer, DO NOT HANG UP. You're better off to leave the phone dangling because the operator will trace the call and dispatch help. But if you hang up, they'll never know how to find you.

The problem with calling 911 from a cell phone is that the calls (at least in California) are routed to Highway Patrol and those folks have a lot going on. It is their priority to respond to the officers in the field before they respond to the general public. So, if there is an incident taking place with their guys - your call regarding a car accident, or heart attack, will have to wait. I know every time I've ever tried to call 911 from a cell phone, I've either had a busy signal or have had the phone ring for a solid 10 minutes before anyone answered.

The lesson here is if you have a cell phone, you are better off to program the number of your local police or fire department directly in to the phone because you'll have a much better chance of rapid response in the event of an emergency.

And do you know the number for the American Association of Poison Control Centers?? If not, it's 1-800-222-1222.

We learned that all accidents are preventable. Except of course, those that are the result of Mother Nature. Accidents usually occur when people have a lack of experience, expertise or are attempting to save time or money. They also occur when people work too much and are fatigued. To identify those people at greatest risk of an accident, we should evaluate whether there is:

1) A tolerance of safety deviations

2) Complacency

Seeing as I smile and nod when my children are QUIETLY playing with scissors and I grab my camera when my three-year-old climbs on top of our cabinets to reach an indelible magic marker ... something tells me I'm teetering on the brink of disaster.


  1. I have seen the safe fueling procedures posted at our (military base) gas pumps and now I know why the pumps don't have the aotomatic latch thing-y and your hand gets very strong holding it for sooooo long.

    Thanks for the reminders! My dad is in the oil business in Houston, and I remember him telling me about the nearby Texas City fire-sad.

  2. Some of Shayna's Thomas the Train pieces, which are made from wood (but painted with lead), were recalled, so I sent them back to the company, which in turn, sent me back new ones. I found out that the company, prior to my experience, was sending out new pieces that exceeded the previous amounts of lead in the paint that the formerly recalled pieces had... NICE! It's amazing that Chinese kids all don't have lead poisoning!... or do the Chinese just use the lead based paints for the Americans?

  3. All I can say is WOW, and thank you. I am thrilled that I missed the meeting but still learned a ton Thanks.

  4. Very interesting stuff, Jen. Did you know we STILL have rocket fuel in our water from that explosion in Henderson in 1988. That's why we have reverse osmosis in our house to get rid of it. It also got rid of the flouride in our water. Shucks. But what can you do? Drink it?

  5. I live in Ontario and we can't fuel our tanks without holding the nozzle anymore. They have changed the system so that you have to stand there and hold the nozzle open to fill the tank. I wonder if this is why? So we can't get back in our cars to do something while it's filling up and then create static? This was a very useful post -- thanks!! I will be much more aware of this when I fill my tank in the future!!

  6. Thanks for this post. I learned a lot from reading it!


  7. Karen in Buffalo5/20/08, 12:48 PM

    Thanks for this post. I have been noticing that I am getting many shocks getting in and out of my minivan (soles of my new shoes?) and now I will be SuPeR careful when refueling. Scary stuff!

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this!!! As an overanxious and very, very CAREFUL person I always enjoy having more Safety Tips!

    Like Cindy above, I'm from Ontario too. For as long as I can remember (I'm only 22 though, so I've only been driving for 6 years myself), we have to hold the gas nozzle while we pump gas because it's the only way to keep the gasoline flowing (you hold the handle in and the gas flows, and if you let up on the handle it will stop flowing). I always thought that's why they call it "pumping gas" (since it's like a pumping motion with your hand). LOL. I never even knew that somewhere out there you could just let the fuel flow freely!

    Apparently we're better off our way... I'll try to quit complaining while pumping as in the frigid, frigid winter weather next year. LOL.