No Matter How Far Off the Beaten Path You Are, Workplace Hazards Will Find You

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

Texans are famous – some might say notorious – for our state pride. That’s especially true of those who were born and raised here. That’s why I always cringe when someone asks me where I’m from.

I was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, but I’ve been in the Lone Star State since I was a kid. So as the saying goes, I’m not from Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.

Anyway, when I was 10 years old, my dad decided we should have a pioneer experience. So, we packed up the Oldsmobile and moved to a remote town (and I use the word “town” loosely) called Park Falls, Wisconsin.

My mom, dad and I, along with two dogs and a cat, arrived in the dead of winter to temperatures well below zero. The house had none of the conveniences I was accustomed to. Running water, for instance. If you were going to take a bath, you had to really think about how committed you were. I remember hauling water one bucket at a time from a well about 100 yards away, heating it on a wood-burning stove, and then pouring it into one of those aluminum tubs ranchers use to water their cattle.

Admittedly, that was a long time ago, and I’m sure Park Falls has made progress. Still, it’s far from a booming metropolis. And that’s just fine with city officials. In fact, the chamber of commerce website prominently features a slogan that speaks volumes about Park Falls’ commitment to remaining a small-town cliché: “Just off the beat path.”

And that is where this post awkwardly stumbles back to its original intent.

Trolling the hundreds of health and safety headlines I subscribe to every day, I was shocked to see a story out of tiny Park Falls. I couldn’t imagine what was so important that I would hear about it from my cubicle way down in Austin, Texas.

The story was about the Flambeau Paper Company, a major cog in Park Falls’ economic engine for more than 100 years. Some of my relatives made good livings there for decades. So I was disappointed to read that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently cited Flambeau for not protecting workers from hazards associated with exposure to sulfur.

The violations involved failing to document safe operating limits, comply with good engineering practices, implement a mechanical integrity program, and conduct an annual audit of lockout/tagout procedures. That’s quite a laundry list of violations for a company with deep roots in a small community.

When you live in a town as small and remote as Park Falls, you feel like nothing bad can happen. Tucked away just south of the Canadian border, surrounded by thousands of acres of forests and hundreds of rivers and lakes, you’re insulated from civilization and all its baggage – traffic, urban sprawl, crime. Sure, we had the occasional case of high school kids stealing the rival team’s mascot. Kids will be kids, after all.

But it turns out that no matter how far off the beaten path you are, workplace hazards will find you. Whether you’re churning out blog posts in Austin or paper products in Park Falls, your employer is responsible for providing the tools and training you need to stay safe. And you are responsible for using those tools and following safety procedures every time.

About the author
David Wylie is the senior technical writer at Texas Mutual Insurance Company. He works closely with Texas Mutual’s safety professionals to teach employers and their employees how to prevent workplace accidents and their associated costs. David holds the OSHA 10-hour general safety certification and a degree in journalism from Southwest Texas State University.

Links to and from this blog do not reflect any affiliation between Texas Mutual Insurance Company and third parties, and are not an endorsement by Texas Mutual Insurance Company of the linked sites (or their owners or operators) or of any content located there. Texas Mutual Insurance Company does not vouch for the availability or accuracy of any information contained on linked sites.

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