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Pickett Fences: Squat Close to the Load
When Safety Really Matters

By Jim Pickett

September/October 2005

Jim Pickett
Jim Pickett
Every one of the 3,000-plus participants at the 2005 National HIV Prevention Conference received a safety manual, aptly titled "Safety", stuffed into their conference goodie tote bag. Including yours truly.

And I for one had a reaction that went something like, "thank goodness." The world is a dangerous place filled with all manner of risk equations that we must constantly assess and calculate and come up with the best answer to minimize the potential harms that could very well befall us had we not recently perused "Safety." The 14-page booklet was filled to the rim with safety guidelines that really came in handy as I scampered between plenaries and workshops and press conferences, dodging researchers and outreach workers and public health administrators networking madly throughout four intense days in Atlanta. Oh, the horrors I averted! Oh, the bad things that didn't happen!

The guide wasted no time at getting to the nitty gritty, opening up with a whole section on falls, with tips like "close drawers completely after every use" and "avoid excessive bending, twisting, and leaning backward while seated." If there is one way to get in trouble, it's excessive bending, my dears. Been there. Modified that behavior and don't want to go back.

Following the final "avoiding falls" intervention -- "roll, don't reach" -- began a section on strains and overexertion.

"Is this too heavy for me to lift or carry alone?"

"Am I trying to impress anyone by lifting this?"

These important practical and psychosocial self-assessments were addressed with a number of "safe lifting steps." The one that I identified best with was the simple and elegant "squat close to the load." It's a modus operandi that will surely come in handy in the months and years to come. I have decided to include the phrase in my daily affirmations. "I am valuable. My life has meaning. The world is my oyster. Squat close to the load."

A section on the application of good work practices included a number of those "wow, I wish I had thought of that" suggestions. For instance, placing your computer monitor so that it is directly in front of you is preferred. And you might want to tilt your computer monitor slightly downward to avoid glare. See what I'm saying? It's such a simple intervention, it's genius. Things needn't be complicated or convoluted to be effective, that's how I look at it.

Telephonic concerns? Well, let me share that the proper method one should employ while holding a telephone does not include "cradling" said object between head and shoulder. The guide hits the mark on this one. I think it's pretty clear why that's a bad idea. Follow the science. But let's be honest here. How many of us are guilty of engaging in this improper technique at one time or another? I'm not trying to get on a soapbox or get all up in your face about this, I just think it's an area where we all could stand to improve, me included. Telephones should not be cradled, period.

Here's one that needs no introduction or explanation. "Move between different postures regularly; don't stay in one position for long periods of time."

Okay? Hello! Don't need to tell me that twice.

"Take mini-breaks to rest the eyes and muscles." I hear that! I was most pleased, as an over-performing Type A professional born and raised into a strong Midwestern work ethic, to read the second part of this strategy, "A break does not have to be a stop of work." Maintaining productivity while concurrently giving oneself a break -- brill. I love it!

Electrical safety, fire prevention strategies, elevator entrapment and severe weather threats were all given their due.

Pretty comprehensive. I am sure lots of bad lifting was prevented at the conference. I feel safe in surmising that cradling incidence was most likely down and that "rolling and reaching" prevalence was up -- both good things. I pondered this road safely traveled as I dug deep into the conference tote, searching among the pens and pharma-sponsored mints and assorted crap for ... hmmm, it must be here somewhere.

What, no condom? No lube? No condom, no lube at an HIV PREVENTION conference with 3,000 sexual beings talking about unprotected receptive anal intercourse all day?

Nowhere to be found. Heard through the grapevine that a condom distributor in the exhibitor hall had offered to stuff all the bags with these types of goodies and was told by the conference organizers, "No thanks." Not in my Bush (Administration). This is a government-run conference, by the watch-out-for-condoms Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

No condoms, but 14 pages of squatting close to loads. What-ever.

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