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THE SAFETY ZONE | JERRY HICKS

Preventing Injuries Is Job One

October 16, 2000|JERRY HICKS

An electrician, a college theater professor, a couple of vocational specialists. Their common bond: Someone took notice that they make safety a priority in their jobs.

The four were Orange County's contingent along with others statewide recently honored with safety awards in Sacramento by Gov. Gray Davis.

For two years in this space I've emphasized tips on safety issues for the home, school or work environment. But always, behind any safety-related issue, what's important are people setting high safety standards for the rest of us.

The state's Office of Risk and Insurance Management set up the annual governor's awards to help recognize state employees who have made a difference through safety. The four from Orange County are reminders that we can all make our environment safer, with just a little effort.

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William Meyer, a professor of theater and dance at Cal State Fullerton since 1984, supervises students' work on set designs for campus productions, such as Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Night," which opens there Friday.

Meyer set safety standards on the set that have become a role model for departments throughout the university.

"The entertainment industry can be dangerous," Meyer said, "because we're always trying new things."

This new production, for example, involves motorized and overhead scenery, all put together by students. Since Meyer instituted safety standards as part of a course on production, stage injuries have been reduced to the Band-Aid level.

"You will always have nicks and cuts when you're working with tools," Meyer said. "But we make safety part of our culture here, and it works."

Spencer Colman, an electrician at Cal State Fullerton, jokes that he got his award just because he's the most vocal.

"I get a chance to see a lot of things on campus that others don't see, and I speak up about it," he said.

A lot of faculty, staff and students, for example, are unaware that they're bordering on "overload" by hooking up so many electrical devices in a classroom.

Points out Colman: "They say, 'Well, it's all working.' What they don't know is, they're in danger of cooking the walls."

Colman, now in his 20th year at Cal State Fullerton, was singled out for beginning a number of safety programs throughout the campus.

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At the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, Tom C. Thomas and Canie A. Marx heard about a serious hand injury to someone at another facility on a paper shredder.

Shredding paper is a way that residents there can make income, but injuries are always a concern.

So Marx and Thomas began talking to the plant operations staff to find out what could be done to make sure the same thing didn't happen at Fairview. What they came up with were equipment guards placed on all 50 paper shredders at the center. They also created an ongoing maintenance program to decrease machine malfunctions that could lead to injuries. It's been three years since they put this in place: not a single paper shredder injury.

"It's better to try to do something before it happens rather than wait to respond to an accident," Marx said.

All four honored emphasize that just becoming more aware of safety can make a huge difference.

Said Colman: "Most unsafe practices come when people are in too big a hurry to use common sense, or they're trying to take a short cut. It's up to the rest of us to slow them down a little."

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Readers may reach Hicks by calling (714) 966-7789 or e-mail to jerry .hicks@latimes.com.

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