The Day I Gave My Boss the Finger

  • Published
  • By Ed Scott
  • Air Force Safety Center, Ground Safety Division
Typical of winter in the Midwest, the base I worked at had just received several inches of heavy, wet snow. Civil engineering snowremoval crews were in full swing and, after clearing the white blanket from the airfield, were busily working on parking lots and sidewalks. Later that morning, the safety office was notified that a member of the snow-removal crew had been involved in an accident. Arriving on-scene a few minutes later, I found out one of the grounds workers had been injured trying to unclog his snowblower. 

Looking at the snowblower, I could see the heavy, wet snow firmly packed into a solid mass, making the snowblower useless. The worker left the engine running with the blower mechanism engaged, while he tried to dig out the mini-iceberg. Unfortunately, his gloved hand was caught by the spinning impeller, which mangled and cut off part of his finger. Nearby workers came to his aid and he was quickly transported to the base hospital. 

With the engine turned off, I dug the leather glove out of the snowblower, talked with the witnesses and returned to the office to brief my boss and start writing the necessary safety report. I left the glove with my boss. As I started writing the report, my boss yelled for me (well, maybe at me). While pulling the glove on in an attempt to determine the level of dexterity available, he encountered a cold, wet lump in the glove ... and pulled out the remains of a finger. We took the remains to the hospital, but the doctors said it was too chewed up to be reattached. Fortunately, the injured worker was able to return 

to his job. I got the safety report turned in to our typist, and everyone on the snow-removal crew, learning from their co-worker's mistake, was very careful for a long time to turn off their equipment before doing any maintenance actions. 

Although this mishap occurred many years ago, and snow-removal equipment has improved since then, with more safeguards built in, operators still need to follow ALL safety precautions when using ANY powered equipment. Guidance in technical orders, manufacturer's instructions and other guides is there to protect us. But it only works if we follow it. 

After this mishap, word spread quickly that I had "given my boss the finger," and it was several weeks before the comments died down. Every so often, when there was a heavy snow, someone would mention it. It was enough to remind me to be very careful with my own snowblower. I hope it's enough to remind you to be careful, too.