April 28

World Day for Safety and Health at Work


Cameron looked at the motivational sign his supervisor used to be so proud of:


* * *


The day when the number in the blank reached 2,000, Noble had thrown a small celebration for the whole crew. He’d gotten the supervisory job after a two-person accident occurred on his predecessor’s watch — an incident with an improperly maintained press that crushed two legs on one worker, the skull of another.

No accidents ever occurred on Noble’s watch. He’d been with the company for almost eight years, headed towards a 3,000 day celebration. Safety was his number one priority: all employees were carefully trained; all equipment was regularly inspected and repaired, with multiple safeguards in place.

One awful day changed everything. The problem occurred everywhere, so nobody could really criticize Noble for the fatalities.

Nobody could criticize Noble, because he’d died along with the rest. Cameron, who hadn’t gone into work that day, entered the factory the following day and erased the number 2,987 from the motivational sign. He used a white stick of chalk to draw a “1” in the blank, starting the countdown all over again.

Out of habit, Cameron turned on the machines each morning, cutting the pieces, bolting and pressing them, sending them down the conveyer then assembling them. There was nobody to purchase the finished products, nowhere to send them, really, but it was a comfort to continue the work routine. Repetitive motions, strenuous but predictable.

And to honor his former supervisor, Cameron followed all safety precautions. At the end of each day, he turned off the equipment, chalked in a revised number on the motivational sign.

Initially, the landmarks pleased him. Any number ending in a five or a zero. 25 was a satisfying number. 43 matched Cameron’s own age. And 50 was ¬†an exciting milestone he looked forward to.

But life had grown hard and lonely. At the end of the 50th day, he left the machinery on. As on previous days, he erased the number on the sign. Instead of writing “51”, he drew a zero.

Cameron walked toward the press. He took off his protective goggles, then unbolted the safety shields from the largest piece of equipment. With a single motion, he pressed a green button, then rolled his body between the closing metal plates of the machine.