How To! -What not to do!

“What title is this?” you may be asking yourself. Well here’s something worthwhile to ponder about – many topics of interest on the internet start with “how does this work” or “how to do this or that” but we have decided to go one better. Recently I was watching an interesting program aimed at beginners in the computer industry and saw one youngster pass another a computer motherboard to put into a chassis. Now why would this be interesting?  You see it’s all about static electricity.  Why one person is grounded and the other is not who says that there won’t be a potential difference (voltage) between the two and this will be discharged in the form of static electricity through this motherboard. Yes, motherboards are pretty robust items but please don’t try this with memory or a CPU. That’s what I am on about. How not to!

Electricians get killed regularlry in the very job that they are good at. Familiarity breeds contempt. Don’t become familiar with electricy – it’s not your friend. Grounding yourself while working with mains voltages is going to lead to your very rapid demise. With the rising cost of cable, copper theft has become a scourge in all countries. These people stealing the copper do not have a clue in what they are dealing with. Just a slight bit of dampness while working on conductors and tools while they are ‘live’ is going to lead to some pretty nasty surprises. The internet is full of nasty pictures showing humans having been fried touching the live pantograph of electric trains – if you are squeamish don’t even think of going there. I had the pleasure once of touching a 3000V DC rail powering power tetrode valves of a marine transmitter – the safety interlock switch was faulty – and received a very nasty burn. DC voltages do this. And stupidity! AC voltages will attach you to the conductor like an eagle attaches itself to it’s prey. Respect electricity and remember, like the sea, it is not your friend.

Riding motorcycles with beachwear. T-shirts, tank-tops, short sleeved shirts appears very sexy to the rider but remember, expect an accident! Do you see MotoGP riders wearing beachwear to the party. I recall years coming across an accident where the motorcyclist was wearing short pants. His kneecap was taken clean off where it hit the road.  I used to wear short pants when I rode my bike but this put paid to any further theories about feeling sexy on a motorcycle. Sexy motorcyclists are akin to dead electricians.

Working on moving machinery with a tie. I did this once. Only once. How about this one though. A schoolfriend working on a circular saw with his tie on. That guy got such a hiding from the teacher that I doubt he will ever be able to touch an electric saw without his bum not showing some form of discomfort. And yes, I see people regularly working with moving machinery with ties on, lanyards blowing in the breeze and jackets flapping over the gear train of a conveyor. In most cases these people are not even aware that the emergency cut out is 4 metres away. Accidents happen. Not all are around to tell the tale.

I have had the pleasure of working with many ex-mine personnel and there is one thing that I will never forget – they always have a good story to tell. I have no doubt in my mind that most of them are very, very true. People taking shortcuts to get a job done is one of them. Falling a 1000 metres down a shaft (just over 3000 foot) is one of them. A schoolteacher once told me about a dynamite factory he worked in. Some more shortcuts and some clown dropping unstable concentrate on the floor. Did you know that one can easily make gunpowder. What is more worrying is that nitroglycerine is just as easy to make. And guncotton. Don’t touch this stuff if you aren’t a chemist. Even chemists don’t touch this stuff. When I was a kid I had this friend at school nicknamed “wavelength” – he was always experimenting with some form of explosive and when I lent him my dad’s book on chemistry this opened a lot of new avenues for the guy. Finding out the power behind potassium chlorate was one of them. Potassium chlorate and sulphur was his favourite. Don’t try this at home either.

A friend of mine used to work in the fire department and one of the biggest problems they came across was ALWAYS the concoction of chemicals found under the housewife’s sink. Acids and Alkalines. MacGyver would have been impressed. I for one have seen with my own eyes people stacking chlorine and pool acid next to each other in the garage. Chlorine and hydraulic fluid (brake fluid to be precise) is just inviting trouble.

 The three most idiotic mixes to have under the sink are always ammonia, formaldehyde and bleach. Ammonia and bleach make a fantastic killer – i.e. ammonia gas which will take you and your family out. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen (cancer causing) and is found as a preservative in many air-fresheners.

 And what tops the list? Working with a circular saw on a slippery floor (wood shavings), powered machinery in poor lighting, not knowing what chemicals one is working with, cycling to work in thick mist and last but not least, getting a free ride on the top of an electric train. Hiding in the wheel well of an aircraft seems to be quite common as well these days.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!