I learned the importance of health and safety in the moving industry the hard way. Dave – a jovial, funny, big-hearted man – died on the job one summer day back in 1999. He was an employee and a friend.
I wasn’t on site that day. Turns out Dave had been complaining about chest pains all day – he mentioned it to his wife that morning before he left. Things got serious a number of hours later. He was driving a full truck, on the way from Toronto to Richmond Hill, and telling the other two guys on the job that he had these chest pains and how his left arm wouldn’t function properly. He didn’t seem that alarmed, it was his co-worker who told him to pull over. They pulled into a strip mall, Dave lit a cigarette and buckled over. One of the guys called 911, telling the operator that Dave was struggling to breathe and was foaming at the mouth. A passer-by saw what was going on and started giving him mouth-to-mouth. An ambulance came quickly and took him to a hospital in Richmond Hill. He died later that evening, leaving behind his wife and four teenagers. He was only 42 years old.
There was little I could have done to prevent that traumatic episode, but just the thought of anyone getting hurt on the job is appalling to me. Since then, the only injuries have been scrapped knuckles and a few nicks and bruises. All these require the First Aid kits we have on each truck, not frantic 911 calls.
Most of my guys have been have with me for five years and longer. Even though I use only experienced movers we still have regular safety training meetings and I’m always looking for new products that will take the load off our backs and onto a new equipment. Everyone knows (or should know) that you lift with your knees not your back. My movers also know whether the best equipment to move a particular item is a four-wheeled dollie or a two-wheeled hand truck and they have access to both. If we are breaking in a new guy, I always go out with him to ensure he is moving things properly.
It’s complicated moving things safely because of all the boxes and materials around in a tight space. Lots of tripping hazards. Tripping can have serious consequences, for instance, www.keeptruckingsafe.org mentions how a 30 year old mover fell off a walk board and could not work for two months while a fall from a ramp by another mover, meant that after a full year, he was still unable to work! In the latest issue of a Canadian Movers Association Fall 2015 magazine (www.mover.net) , they estimate that 140 movers are injured a year.
Sometimes in the heat of a move, customers don’t understand the dangers of moving large items. For example, I’ve had someone urge me to hoist a 300 lb sofa eight stories over a balcony during a condo move in downtown Toronto saying “it’s okay, I’ll help” but I had to refuse. The customer, who is not a trained mover, would not know what to do should the couch swing in one direction or the other, so such maneuvers can only be done with a minimum of three trained movers.
Other safety concerns include requests to place runners on stairs to protect wood floors. In many cases this cannot be done as it makes the floor too slippery, especially when moving large items up and down them. I once got a poor review because of that, but I wrote back and I hope she understood that it is safer that she sweep the stairs down afterwards rather than have an accident blight the enjoyment of her new home. We are always very careful to reduce tracking of dust and dirt by using runners right by the door, but never directly on stairs.
Strapping things down en-route means that your belongings don’t get damaged and it also means that it stays put as we move the truck. According to www.keeptruckingsafe.org , a major source of injury claims is falling cargo after a truck stops and you open the doors. That’s why we ensure that only the trained staff load the trucks, even where customers have decided they want to help.
You have to have healthy people who are able to physically withstand hours of going up and down stairs, lifting heavy furniture and boxes, they have to be able to withstand the physical stresses of moving. And that is another reason why I enforce that my staff takes the government required five-minute break every half hour and that they keep hydrated and have a full lunch break so that they can keep their caloric intake up. They really need it so they can make it through the day!
There are definite a number of skills required to move things around within tight spaces, so when you call in the professionals, best to sit back and let them do it. Often, it makes best financial sense too: your involvement can nullify some insurance claims as if things get damaged because an unqualified person moved them, then insurance companies may dismiss any claim.