Read the Manual!

Often, campus staff don’Â’t follow instructions when using dangerous equipment, leading to injury, death and lawsuits.

I have been waiting a long time to get a John Deere tractor. After several years of saving my pennies and careful planning, the day finally arrived last week to pick up my tractor, trailer and farm implements.

As expected, I had and still have much to learn about how to safely operate what can be dangerous equipment. I have heard enough stories about people being crushed, chopped up and otherwise maimed by tractors and implements to make me highly inquisitive so that I can avoid the deadly mistakes. I am fortunate to have a good friend who is very well versed on the subject and who has graciously agreed to teach me how to keep from becoming a statistic. I have also spent a good deal of time carefully reading the operator’s manual even though men are reportedly not supposed to waste time on such trivia.

As with any type of equipment that can be dangerous, the manufacturers to great lengths to warn people about the potential hazards involved in its operation and frequently use the terms “death” and “serious injury,” which are often accompanied by rather graphic sketches of hapless victims who fail to heed such advice being ripped apart by the equipment.

My experience with my new tractor reminds me of a number of instances where tragedies have taken place on campuses because someone failed to read the operator’s manual. For example, a number of school children and adults have been crushed to death after someone closed electronic folding bleachers without first verifying that someone was not behind the bleachers. In one North Carolina case, a student was confined to a wheelchair for life after clear instructions to bolt weight lifting equipment to the floor before use were ignored. The millions paid in the ensuing civil action will not restore the student’s ability to walk.

Campus safety professionals can help avoid these serious types of oversights by finding ways to require employees to review safety materials and then documenting it. This can be done with manual paper and pen approaches but is increasingly handled by Web-based systems that include short tests.

As people are extremely prone to not read these types of instructions, it can take creativity and significant effort to get people on board. Of course, failure to take the time up front to do so can take much greater effort to address the serious injury or loss of life that can result when people don’t read the manual.

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Tagged with: Training

About the Author


Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at [email protected]. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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