MCS, PPE and Looking Pussy

So off to Walmart.

Keys, wallet, cell phone, Epipen, gloves, and respirator mask (?!?).

Yup, yup,  and good to go.

No shorts, no sleeveless tees, no flip flops, a minimum of exposed skin.

And oh yeah, a bottle of water, in case I do get exposed and need to take a quickie wash in the parking lot.

So why do I have to go out in everything but a Tyvek suit and full head mask?

Because I was afraid of looking pussy.

Yes, that’s right. My 150+ chemical and environmental allergies mostly stem from the fact that I wanted to look tough.

Now let me be clear, plastic slides and kids in full body armor on tricycles is absolutely and completely absurd and this little essay is not about reasonable risks. Such small risks are actually beneficial and necessary to human growth and development.

This essay is about big stupid risks, hard science, and machismo.

It’s about those times when I worked in several fields where I had to compete with – and regularly beat – the “boys” at their own game.

When you’re working construction as a five foot zip, one hundred twenty pound chick and your coworkers are called Hoss, Bear, and Big Matt, AND where the OSHA regs are largely a poster in the break room, you learn pretty quickly that while it is stupid not to wear a mask, or gloves, or the safety harness, you’ll be laughed off the site before you can even get started if you actually do wear those things.

So let’s talk about the real world and PPE.

PPE (or personal protection equipment) is the large pile of specialty equipment required to do any job safely.

It can consist of anything from work boots to a full biohazard “space” suit, and can range in price from expensive to holy shit.

So most employers don’t provide it.

Now there are exceptions to this rule. I have never seen a journeyman electrician or a hazmat worker that did not have a full set of PPE, and most cops and soldiers tend to figure out what they will need and carry it as well. But these guys and girls are fully aware that their lives might depend on what they carry…and most people are not.

People, in general, tend to have to have too loose a grasp of the laws of science and too big of a conception of their own immortality to suit up properly.

And there is an element of machismo to most of these professions as well.

Construction workers like to think they are tough, soldiers are taught to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and so on, but the actual truth is that this sort of thing is not really intelligent or even necessary these days as technology continues to progress even in such fields as work wear fashion or basic body armor.

And some people assume that it is a matter of personal preference rather than hard science. Many states including the one I live in allows you to decide whether or not to wear a helmet or leathers when on a motorcycle for example.

But frankly, this should not be a matter of personal expression or choice. Lets talk hard physics for a second.

If you come off the bike at 70 in shorts and flip flops and no helmet, you are dead meat. You’re head will split, your bones will break, and the roadway will peel you like an apple. Helmets, boots, and leather help prevent these things. Simple as that.

Old cyclists, bold cyclists, no old bold cyclists….and in my experience the individual who lays the bike down tends to pick the helmet up thereafter.

Same with working with acids, or pesticides, or motor oil, really but the effects of these are rarely as immediate or dramatic.

But we rarely teach hard science, we rarely learn about the guys crop dusting fields in full hazmat suits, or the signs saying that the chemicals on the tomatoes can kill you so STAY OUT, we rarely see the guy with his head splattered like a paint dollop across the yellow line, or meet the guy with asbestos based cancer, or the woman who can’t tolerate any perfumes any more.

And it is cheaper to go without.

When I was working Search and Rescue I needed a Go Bag and that bag HAD to contain

a full First Responder First Aid Kit – around $75-100
a good knife with a saw edge and seat belt cutter – around $50
a glass breaker – around $15
a climbing harness – around $150-250 for a cheap one
climbing rope – around $150-200 for a cheap one
climbing shoes – around $50
hiking boots – around $50
wet suit – around $75-150
flashlight – $36-150 for a good one
compass – $5
150 feet of paracord – $15
hatchet – $10
climbing tools and carabiners – $75 – $300

and so on. And keep in mind that my employer DID NOT provide any of this.

When I worked as a framer I had to have

a framing hammer (22oz, waffle head) – $25
a toolbelt – $10-35
a hardhat – $15
boots – steel toe, ANSI cert, oil resistant – $79-150
chisel set – $20
speed square – $15
chalk line – $10
plumb bob – $10
level – $25 and up

and according to OSHA

work gloves -$9
reflective vest -$15
goggles – $15-75
respirator mask -sawdust grade – $8

and since our contractor did not provide them –

power drill -$25+
power circular saw – $35+
chop saw – $75+

SO, yes there was a HUGE money angle here, but still, let’s get back to looking pussy.

My bosses told me not to fuss about gear, my coworkers laughed at me for being gear queer, and for the most part people did without the gear and got about their business.

And some of their complaints were legitimate.

It is harder to do skilled woodwork in gloves, it is harder to see the wall you are painting in a face mask, and hardhats do effect how you hear sound.

And pussys are not allowed.

If you were afraid of heights you’d find yourself working the top of the wall. If you were afraid of spiders you’d be pulling CAT5 in the crawlspaces, and if you cried out for anything less than an amputated arm than you needed to go home to mommy.

And if you were female then that went double. No, TRIPLE.

So all my life, I did what I had to to fit in and look Alpha to the rest of the pack.

No sunscreen
Ignore the insects – including ticks
Duct tape or electrical tape on minor wounds
Oil, chalk dust, paint, sawdust, mud, sheetrock mud, grout, insultaion, tile bits, blood, pesticides, mucus, broken glass on my clothes
Pull out splinters with my teeth
Lots of caffeine, lots of sugar, energy shots and more to work through those skipped lunch breaks to hit those deadlines
Lack of sleep
Skip the mask, the gloves, the goggles – we are in a hurry
Breath the sheet rock dust, the paint fumes, the insulation, the oil smoke, the river water
Screw the rain, screw the snow, there is a kid down in that hole
No time for static grounding boots this must be done by four or else.
Bike chain oil won’t hurt you, wipe that on your shirt.
Motor oil is safe, rub it on your pants to get a better grip on that nut
Pesticides, GMOs, preservatives – does it have a lot of sugar? I did not sleep last night.

And you know what the end result of all this alpha dogging is?

Me in Walmart, wearing PPE in 90 degree weather being followed by security and avoided by small children while big men laugh.

The end result of all that stupid machismo, and arrogant toughness, and anything-you can-do-I can-do-better one man upmanship was this…

Lyme Disease, sensitive skin, skin cancer scars, hyperallergenicness to everything, food allergies, kidney problems, liver damage, leaky guts, neurological problems, poor balance, and at age 37 about another ten years to live,

and for those of you who are still worried about the whole keeping up appearances thing,

there is also me, right here, totally looking pussy.

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