The Office Safety Nerf vs. Warehouse Macho Man

Last night's episode of The Office - all about safety training - pitted the "soft and squishy" office manager Michael (and his reluctant followers) against the brawny warehouse workers led by Darryl, on crutches after Michael pulled the ladder out from under him in a recent prank.

Darryl's demo to the Dunder Mifflin staff on their annual Safety Day includes the hazards of the appendage-eating baler machine, and the formidable forklift in the warehouse.

Darryl: This is the forklift.. you need a license to operate it, which means the upstairs office workers can't drive it. Quiz: Mike, should you drive the forklift?

Michael: I can and I have!

Darryl: No, no, no, no! I said should you? You should not drive the forklift, understand?!..

Darryl proceeds to show the staff the baling machine, which he describes as capable of taking a man's arm clean off. Michael gets very jealous of how macho and scary Darryl's safety issues are, and the sting is even worse when Darryl and his warehouse buddies mock the risks taken by Michael's white-collar team, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and computer-monitor eye fatigue.

Darryl rubs it in by taunting Michael as a "soft and squishy office nerf" … and the episode degenerates from there.

Forklift driving in real life isn't always done by properly certified drivers, even though it should be, to paraphrase Darryl. (though probably rarely by guys as clueless as Michael Scott).

Meatheads driving forklifts

But enough meatheads have driven forklifts without proper training. Brian Rivest, night lead hand in packaging at a southwestern Ontario bakery, talks about his first work there 20 years ago. "When I was 16 years old, you were allowed to drive forklifts," he says, "you just got on a forklift and you were a driver - absolutely no training."

And forklift drivers aren't the only ones who haplessly climbed into equipment or situations without sufficient training or know-how. Utility linemen apparently are famous for it.

Jim Harding tells of a summer job he had 20 years ago up on the pole: "Almost every lineman you talked to had had a serious accident," and he was no exception.

"I was on the top of the pole, belted in with spurs, and the pole broke… probably the cross arm, when it hit, took the blow and saved my life." He was knocked unconscious and suffered minor injuries.

Had a big fall? Let's go drinking!

But Harding didn't take any time off after the fall and, he recalled sheepishly, "the night after the accident we all went out for drinks... "It was more of a macho attitude back then, part of the business." Back then, he said, no one thought of taking time off for what they deemed "minor" accidents (pretty much everything short of amputation or death).

Harding says his accident greatly influenced his career direction back then; today he's team leader for safety, health and environment at HydroOne Networks Inc. He says accident prevention is better nowadays, as well as better reported with more efforts to help employees get back to work.

But how many workers are still (secretly or out in the open) comparing their scars as badges of workplace stoicism and manliness?

How many Darryls and Michaels are locked in one-upmanship over the risks they take at work? Machismo still rules in warehouses and office buildings alike...

I guess it's up to the next generation to make cautious look cool. Who's up for it?

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