Safety is YOUR Responsibility, Or is it Theirs?

Added on August 9, 2012

I have been a subscriber to all of the big woodworking magazines for years now. At least a few times a year, these magazines will publish a reader’s letter that castigates them for demonstrating some unsafe practice or another. In the October 2012 issue of Fine Woodworking Magazine, I read one such apology that sticks in my craw: “We should have insisted on hearing protection when we took this photo of Alan Turner.” The photo in question was featured on the cover of the previous issue (left) and it shows Alan making a cut with no hearing protection. One might also point out, if they were so inclined, that he’s wearing reading glasses instead of safety glasses and his sleeves are a little baggy.

Let’s Face the Facts

There are two truths that I think we should consider. First is the true dirty reality of shop safety. Whether most of us realize it or not, there are thousands of shops around the world where a crap-ton of woodworking gets done WITHOUT the standard safety equipment we generally consider mandatory. Of course I am not supporting unsafe work environments but they do exist. The second thing is that a person decked out in a half-mask respirator, ear muffs, and impact-resistant goggles doesn’t exactly make for the most attractive magazine cover. Should magazines be given a pass for things like this or should they be required to strictly adhere to all the best safety practices? Are we really supposed to believe that after nearly 40 years in this business, Fine Woodworking “accidentally” published these pictures? Or can we assume this was just a calculated risk for the sake of better-looking images?

Personal Protective Equipment

Of course I realize that these magazines are in the position of teaching people how to work wood and safety is certainly a major part of their responsibility. I think they do a great job of showing us the safest possible woodworking techniques. But when it comes to PPE (personal protective equipment), do they really need to be so strict? Should there be any allowance for common sense or for how some folks choose do things in their shops? Dust does not make your lungs happy. Wood slivers are not a welcome addition to your eyeballs. Loud sounds will hurt your ears. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if you don’t know these things, you probably aren’t ready to be in a wood shop in the first place without direct supervision.

Now don’t get me wrong, you folks know I’m a huge proponent of safety (heard of Safety Week?). I am certainly not condoning un-safe practices. I do my best to show the safest procedures in each and every piece of content I produce. I also know I have a lot of younger viewers/readers and it is incredibly important for me to set a good example when it comes to shop safety. But for things like woodworking videos and articles, which are just as much entertainment as they are education, is there a point where we should cut the publishers some slack? Do they constantly need to remind us about PPE, as if we aren’t aware of it? Are they being negligent if they put someone on the cover who isn’t wearing a full set of safety gear? Is it our responsibility to email them when they fail to include PPE in their photos, as if they aren’t already aware of it?

The Police

I have the highest respect for those who use proper grammar and I try to do so myself, but I have a strong distaste for “grammar police.” Similarly, I am a big believer in safety practices and I believe we should try to be as safe as possible in our shops, but I could do without the “safety police”, primarily when it comes to PPE. So my personal opinion is that we should indeed cut content-producers a little slack. Not to mention, while your email may result in a correction or apology, it probably won’t stop it from happening again. What are your thoughts on this?