Health, Fitness & Safety on the Job and Beyond!

by / Wednesday, June 10, 2015 / Published in Safety

Alan’s Story

While I was going through different European countries serving as an International Ambassador for Health & Fitness, we met so many different people. While in Paris, I met Alan McAllorum, the concierge at the Best Western Hotel near the Eiffel Tower. Like a true service professional, Alan was a very likable person and we quickly became friends.

Among other qualities, I greatly admired Alan’s ability to seamlessly and fluently switch between 5 different languages on the spot. I’d watch him converse with multi-lingual parties without dropping a beat. Or the phone would ring and he’d engage the caller in a different language each time, with a speed and precision that was amazingly proficient.

A couple of years ago Alan was on his way to work, driving his motorcycle while wearing the proper clothing and a helmet. He had made this trip to and from work at the Best Western hundreds and hundreds of times before. But, this one morning he was thinking about something else.

In a large, international city like Paris, there is a lot of traffic and not everyone obeys the rules. You have to be a vigilant, defensive driver at all times. Alan was hit by another vehicle and ended up getting hurt badly. He was hospitalized for many months with a severe head injury and injuries to other parts of his body.

Kevin Saunders, Alan and Cedric

At the Best Western Paris, France, with (left-to-right) Alan McAllorum, Kevin and Cedric.

Kevin Saunders near the Eiffel Tower in Paris

Kevin stopped by the Eiffel Tower for a photo while pushing through Paris, France.

As you might imagine, the head injury took the greatest toll on his everyday life. He had to relearn a lot, including how to think like he did before his injury. It has taken him several years just to get close being his multilingual self again. According to his doctors, Alan’s age was a factor in his slow recovery. He had been in his late 30s when the accident happened, and he’s recently turned 41.

This devastating injury put Alan, his wife, Adela, and their 3 children in a position where he had to return to his native country of Ireland, where he has family. Between his prolonged recovery and the lifestyle changes that were necessary, he was unable to return to the job he had enjoyed so much at Best Western.

As Alan has mentioned to me, no matter how many times you may have done something – even a simple commute – you can never become complacent. While at work, you must stay alert and aware of your surroundings no matter what job you are doing. If you’re working in a hazardous environment, then this requires even greater awareness and vigilance of those elements that may constitute a safety hazard. And as Alan’s story illustrates, attention to safety matters just as much outside the workplace.

The Work Safety Mindset

If your job involves driving a vehicle to and from job sites – whether you’re carrying people or work materials – you must drive defensively and be safety-conscious in everything you do. From loading and unloading at the job site to staying alert for any possible safety hazards while working or behind the wheel, the safety of those around you is your responsibility.

I had a summer job working on an electric crew where we were replacing electrical lines that had been destroyed in an ice storm. I also had a summer job working in a cement plant, where we had to wear respirators and protective clothing at all times: when handling cement and bagging it, cleaning up at the end of the day, and while loading cement bags on a conveyer belt. On both the electrical and cement plant jobs, I noticed the inherent dangers that went with the job and I was always vigilant to stay safe. Since I loved working hard and working out, I always came to work ready to give all I had each day.

Cement Workers

When working with cement bags on the job, protective clothing and respirators must be worn at all times.


Anatomy of a Dust Explosion

The Dust Explosion Pentagon

Left: Coal dust explosions from plant. Right: For a dust explosion to occur, there a five necessary elements which must occur simultaneously. They consist of fuel, oxygen, suspension of dust, confinement (as in a silo), and heat (an ignition source can include anything from a spark or lit cigarette, to a hot bearing). These elements will cause an explosion proportionate to the size of the fuel source.

The picture above shows how these five sides form the explosion represented by the pentagon. All 5 elements are critical for a dust explosion to occur. For example, if the fuel, heat, oxygen and confinement occurred together in proper quantities, an explosion would still not be possible without the suspension of the dust or fuel.

Unfortunately, the grain elevator explosion that paralyzed me was caused by complacency. The massive Corpus Christi Public Grain Elevator I was working at was devastated, and I was blown over a two story building over 300 feet through the air onto a concrete parking lot. In the aftermath of the explosion, the complex was littered with debris and the bodies of my coworkers.

Coal dust explosions

Coal dust explosion coming out of the top of a silo house on left and coal dust explosion on right.

How is this possible? Grain dust and coal dust are closely rated in terms of explosivity. Coal dust is generated when it is pulverized and stored in a silo house. Similarly, grain dust comes off the grain through any type of contact or friction, such as movement or even grain settling in storage. When contained in a silo, grain dust is potentially more explosive than dynamite and gasoline. Research has shown that the energy of a large grain dust explosion can approach atomic energy based on the tremendous forces that are generated. On that day in Corpus Christi, this occurred after silo operators fell into a state of complacency regarding compliance with safety regulations. Their inaction put every employee at risk, and took the lives of ten of my coworkers.

Newspaper headlines after grain dust explosion

The Newspaper headline the day after my explosion read “Blood, bodies were scattered all over” and that parking lots around the grain elevator “looked like a battle field.”

Corpus Christi Grain Elevator before explosion
Corpus Christi grain elevator after explosion

On the left is a picture of the grain elevator taken from a brochure. The picture on the right was taken after the explosion, showing the tremendous damage resulting from the dust explosion.

Corpus Christi Grain Elevator Explosion from across the bay

This picture was taken moments after the grain elevator explosion I was caught in while serving as a Federal Inspector.

Injured Grain elevator employee
Fatality of grain elevator explosion

Just two of the lives that were needlessly lost in the grain dust explosion.

It seems that new employees have accidents because they aren’t fully aware of safety protocols. Or they choose to ignore them because they just don’t appreciate the real danger and risk that these measures are designed to prevent. There are also employees who been on the job for many years without incident, and as a result, they start to take their safety for granted. They can become lax about observing safety protocols, and accidents of all levels of severity can happen.

I found that even working with cement can be dangerous. It is becoming a booming industry and great for economies from Asia to Eastern Europe. Cement is literally the “glue” of progress. It’s a binding agent that holds the other ingredients that together make concrete, a crucial component in buildings and roads. 80 percent of it is made and used in emerging economies. “Demand is growing so fast and continues to grow, and you can’t cap that,” says Olivier Luneau of Lafarge, a global producer of building materials. “Our core business is cement, so there is a limit to what we can change.”

Overturned cement truck fatality

John Adams, of Wintersville, OH, was flown by medical helicopter to a Pittsburgh hospital after a wreck involving the concrete truck he was driving . The Ohio State Highway Patrol reported the truck went off the right side of the road, struck a boulder and overturned.

Cement truck accident safety protocols

A horrific accident involving an overturned concrete truck claimed the life of an area woman reportedly on the way to visit her mother in the hospital Wednesday morning in Lawton, OK.

Managers and supervisors have the challenge of keeping safety number one while maintaining productivity at a high level and running a profitable business. Only then can a company reach the pinnacle of excellence within their industry.

One thing that can be changed is the overall approach for addressing the inherent dangers faced by workers, in order to prevent on-the-job injuries through smarter and more effective processes. For example, in the cement industry worldwide over half of the fatalities happen while employees are driving. My friend Alan was badly injured on his way to work. He was fortunate that his life was spared and he can still go on to achieve great things in life. However some people who do not stay vigilant about safety are not so lucky.

Safety Starts with Our Own Health and Fitness

Safety on the job is how we protect the human and material resources that we are entrusted with. Health and fitness is how we protect our own bodies. We do this by eating right and exercising regularly. When you develop a habit of healthier living, you are more alert, you think more clearly and you naturally have more energy to get through each day. You can work more effectively just by incorporating a routine as simple as walking, running or jogging. You can do some strength conditioning by doing push-ups, sit ups or chin ups at home. If you have some weight equipment by all means you can use that.

Many people fail to prioritize their own fitness, making the excuse that it’s not convenient or that they just don’t have time for it. However, even the busiest of people can set themselves up for better health by making a commitment to themselves. Our UPS driver, who is in his late 50’s, goes to the YMCA 3 to 4 times a week and does weight lifting with a partner for 45 minutes, and then does 30 minutes of cardio. He has to be to work at 7:00 AM to load his truck so he gets to the gym at 5:30 AM each day and takes his UPS uniform with him so he can shower up and get dressed.

Kevin Saunders doing lat pulldowns

After his workout he grabs a quick protein shake he mixes himself with whey protein and ice, shaking it up in a plastic cup with a lid. He takes a piece or two of fruit in his small insulated lunch box. Many times he even makes an egg white pancake at home, which consists of: 6 egg whites, one half cup of uncooked oatmeal and 3 tablespoons of low sugar preserves. Mix it in a blender. Then take a skillet, and put the burner on medium, and give the skillet a quick spray with Pam. Then pour the mixture into the skillet and cook it on each side for 4 to 5 minutes. This will produce an egg white pancake which will give you protein along with a great carbohydrate fuel. You don’t have to leave home. Staying healthy just takes a little extra time in meal planning and preparation.

Also, stay healthy by trying to eat smaller, balanced meals by having 3 meals and 2 snacks a day to keep your metabolism going. For breakfast you can have 1 cup of oatmeal with berries and some egg whites. If you are in a real hurry for breakfast make a shake with 1 cup of egg whites, ½ cup of skim milk and 2 tbsp. of Nestles Nesquik chocolate (low sugar). It tastes just like a milkshake! You can also put it in a blender with ice cubes or just shake it up with a glass that has a tight lid on it.

Keep your meals smaller, but balanced, with 4-6 oz of grilled chicken, fish or turkey, a cup of vegetables and a salad. Also be sure to eat your carbohydrates such as a baked potato or steamed rice with your meal at noon and in the evening. Then have a piece of fruit (an apple or orange are convenient) for snacks which you can have at mid-morning or in the afternoon. If you like yogurt then you will have to carry a small lunch box to keep it fresh and at a cool temperature.

When you stay vigilant about safety and make health and fitness a part of your weekly regimen, you will enjoy what you are doing more, and you will be much safer on the job and everywhere else life takes you. You will be more alert, have a much clearer mind and have the energy it takes to get your job done efficiently and effectively. I challenge each and every reader to make safety Job #1, and to expect it at all levels of your organization so that you can do your best work and reach your goals.

So when it comes to safety, fitness and health take action, be relentless, and keep GOING FOR THE GOLD!

Keep Going for the GOLD! Never Give Up!
Kevin Saunders, motivational speaker
Kevin Saunders

Kevin Saunders is a World Champion Paralympian, motivational speaker, athlete (with multiple gold medals) and author. Kevin Saunders was the first person with a disability appointed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness Sports (only 20 people are selected for this nationwide) by the President of the United States. Kevin Saunders was first chosen to be appointed to the prestigious Council by President George H.W. Bush and was the only person reappointed by to this Council by President Bill Clinton and he was reappointed again by President George W. Bush as a constituent expert to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. Learn more about Kevin’s story and accomplishments.