A Curve in the Road of Life

We all drive some type of truck, van or combo truck/trailer to transport our tools from job to job. Most of us take great pride in our vehicles, as well as the way we keep our tools organized and ready for work. I know it’s important to me that we have all the tools in order, everything in its place, and a place for everything. No one wants to waste time looking for tools, supplies, or something as simple as a roll of blue tape.

If the crew knows where everything is in the van/trailer, it makes the job go much smoother. The key to that is making sure the tools are put back in the correct spot at the end of the job or when we are finished with that tool. Every time we have a new crew member, we make sure he or she understands how we work and why we do what we do to keep the truck/trailer clean and ready.

I recall the first time we set up our van, doing our best to think through the location for each tool based on its size, weight, shape, and how often we will use it for the job. Is it an install tool or a sand/finish tool? Should we put it up on a shelf or keep it low? We set it up and took it apart several times before we agreed it was ready. We outgrew the van quickly, so we decided it would be best to also get a trailer and a pickup truck. This provided several additional benefits such as allowing me to leave the tools on the job so the crew could keep working if I had to pull off and go do an estimate, and the ability to use the truck for trash removal on demo jobs.

While we spent countless hours organizing for efficiency, we didn’t stop to consider a key factor. What happens if the vehicle is ever in an accident? What will fly where and what will happen in the back of the van at that moment? Are the tools secured properly and are there safety measures in place to protect the driver? Well, I found out.

A few months ago, my day was off to a simple start. Then, in the blink of an eye, it all went downhill. I was driving the van on a two-lane road, just focusing on the road ahead. A car came into my lane, and we hit hard. I had no time to react or get out of the way.

Just like a movie, it became a series of snapshots. I took a quick look to my right to see if I could go on the side of the road to move out of the way. I saw a ditch, so moving over was not an option. I needed to hit the brakes as hard as I could to slow down and stop. I couldn’t go right, and I couldn’t stop fast enough. As if in slow motion, I could see the two cars hitting at 45 MPH. Seat belt on, set, and ready for impact, as it all comes forward.

The sound of the two cars colliding, plus the sound of the tools hitting the safety partition behind me, was one of the strangest sounds I have ever heard. It was over as fast as it happened and I was in shock. First check, am I hurt? How is the driver in the other car? Should I get out of the van? Double check, am I okay? It was amazing how fast the thoughts ran through my head.

Ultimately, the driver safety partition prevented me from getting hit with the tools. It would have been real bad if that wall was not in place. We did have the tools locked on the shelves to prevent them from falling during a turn or bump, but not locked in for a 45 MPH impact. In this type of scenario, it would be difficult to stop all the tools from jumping off the shelves, so it was very important that we had a safety partition installed. It was also very important that I was wearing a seat belt. I believe that if I had not been wearing mine, my head would be full of glass. Due to the type of impact, the airbag did not deploy.

The moral of the story is, always be safe. Not only when operating the tools, but when transporting them too. Wear seat belts. Make sure you have a safety partition installed in your vehicle and that the tools are locked down and ready for more than a few turns and bumps. Keep yourself safe while driving.

Let’s all do what we can to prevent job site accidents and be safe. Please drive with your seat belt on and safety wall in place, but most of all let’s remember the reason we all work and live for: our families and friends.

I am truly thankful that no one was hurt that day, and we all were able to hug our families that night.

Wayne Lee is business development and technical advisor for Middle Tennessee Lumber in Burns, Tennessee. He has taught thousands of students at wood flooring schools and has his Craftsman, Master Craftsman, Vanguard and Ambassador degrees from the NWFA. He can be reached at wlee@midtnlumber.com.