Where in the hell am I?

February 15, 2009


Filed under: archaeology, archeology, safety — Tags: , , , , — John @ 8:16 pm

I got an unpleasant taste of leadership this weekend, dealing with incident reporting. I spent two days in my hotel room making phone calls, writing and answering e-mails, and filling out forms. Meanwhile, the crews who I had been spending the most time with went and found another very cool site.

Safety training and reporting is a relatively new dimension to my job in archaelogy, and I suspect to archaeology in general. I mean, we all know that archaeology isn’t what we see in adventure movies, but for a long time there was a very macho tinge to it. We called ourselves the “Cowboys of Science” and prided ourselves on working hard and playing hard in rough places. Even as times have changed and being macho is somewhat frowned upon, we still pride ourselves on working hard and playing hard. We love telling stories of all our close calls and bumps and bruises, staring down danger and playing through the pain. Even with OSHA and our half-hearted efforts to follow the rules.

But, in the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changing. Major clients are demanding that we have strict safety standards and a documented safety record. We have to be in compliance with their safety standards, and are treated the same as the construction workers and roughnecks. In this particular instance, it means wearing a side-impact hard hat, even when we’re walking though a mile-long cow pasture. We have to wear OSHA-standard steel toe boots, even though we may be walking 4-5 miles.

It also means we are supposed to report not only every injury, but every “near hit.” Did you see a venomous snake 50 feet away? That’s a near hit. Get cut off driving to the site? Near hit. Get bit by a mosquito? Yep, you guessed it. In other words, the basic day-to-day tasks of archaeological survey in Texas (and likely most everywhere) are likely to produce at least 2-3 “near hits” daily, each of which is supposed to get a report filed.

If you’re thinking this is stupid and excessive, you’re not alone. The result is not necessarily safer behavior, although I think all the safety training has made us more aware of the severity of some hazards we have downplayed. The main result is people not reporting potentially more serious things because of the paperwork and the interviews. A couple of spots of poison ivy or a tick bite are the kind of things we’ve all had a hundred times. It itches, you take care of it, it goes away, no harm, no foul. If it gets worse, you tell someone, you take care of it, it goes away, etc. Unfortunately, the client and the company don’t quite see it that way.

In this instance, a crew member had an embedded tick. He removed it, but the head stayed in. He told the field monitor, along with several other people, that they had been bit by ticks the day before, so that a batch “near hit” report could be filed. After hearing about Lyme disease and the symptoms of an infected bite, he checked and noticed that it had the signature bullseye. He checked his insurance, found a doctor, got it checked out, and got a prescription for antibiotics to treat the potential infection. Pretty standard. Only, he didn’t follow the proper protocol, particularly when it came to reporting. He actually wasn’t going to say anything, because he didn’t think it was a big deal and didn’t want it to be one. However, one of his fellow crew members mentioned it in passing to a field director, and his crew chief also reported it the following day. Which, if you’ve been reading through everything I mentioned above, meant it was now a big deal. The client’s safety procedures weren’t exactly followed, nor were our company’s. It turns out that neither the tech nor the crew chief were aware that our company had a separate, if somewhat similar, set of procedures to follow. The tech did nothing wrong as far as treatment, in fact he did everything right, and if he had followed the procedures as laid out, he would have been doing the exact same thing (even going to the same doctor). The uproar was over the break in the protocols, and I spent the better part of two days dealing with all of that, including a brief morning training session with all of the techs discussing the company safety reporting procedures, and trying to convince them that reporting all of these minor incidents and following the protocol was important for reasons beyond keeping their jobs and making my life easier.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re not a CRM archaeologist or an archaeology student, then you can maybe feel my pain, or at least see how different my world is from what you see on TV or in movies beyond the scientific aspects. If you’re a CRM professional or someone considering the field, view this as a glimpse of things to come. I’ve told the people out with us right now that right now this may be an abberation, and not all jobs are like this, but eventually all jobs will be.


1 Comment »

  1. You’re the only person I know who actually means it when he says he went to a safety meeting.

    Comment by Joolie — February 23, 2009 @ 2:59 am

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