Here’s a wealth of information out there about safety — and quite a bit of misinformation.
Some of that misinformation is in the form of urban legends, rumors and myths.
An urban legend is a story which circulates as folklore in today’s society. When researchers try to verify them, they usually find there is no basis in fact.
Many of these stories are about supposed safety hazards. In some cases no such hazard exists. In other cases the particular incident did not occur.
The legends are passed on from one person to another the same way jokes travel. Today they circulate rapidly via email.
Safety legends are entertaining and mostly harmless, but they can cause you to get worried about the wrong hazards instead of concentrating on the real dangers. Using legend stories instead of real injury incidents to illustrate hazards also decreases your credibility when you are trying to make a point about safety.
Urban legends follow some patterns which help you to identify them. First, they always happened to someone else somewhere else. “A guy my brother-in-law works with” or “a hospital in the next state” are typical sources. Second, the legends are often cautionary tales, with dreadful consequences for someone making a mistake. Third, the punchline of the story is humor or horror.
Just because a story has appeared in print doesn’t mean it’s true. Many tales that turned out to be untrue urban legends have appeared in newspapers.
The following urban legends have been around for a long time and some have even appeared in at least one safety publication as fact:
Barrel of Bricks
When a bricklayer finished a three-story chimney, bricks remained on the roof. Since the forklift was gone and he was alone, he decided to use a rope pulley to get the leftover bricks down.
He winched a big metal bucket up to the roof, where he loaded it. He then climbed to the ground where he wrapped part of the rope around his hand and untied the end connected to a railing. Suddenly the weight of a falling bucket of bricks shot him upwards. In passing, the bucket broke his nose and shoulder. At the pulley he broke a few fingers. Meanwhile the bucket smashed and lost its load on the ground, then launched upwards as the bricklayer fell. This time it hit him in the groin. He broke both feet on the pile of bricks and let go the rope. The bucket fell again and fractured his skull.
Scuba Diver Scooped
A body was found in an area that had been burned by a forest fire. The male victim was dressed in a wetsuit, including dive tank, flippers and face mask. An autopsy revealed he died, not from burns, but from massive internal injuries consistent with a fall. Dental records were used to identify the body. Investigation revealed that on the day of the fire the man had gone diving off the coast, miles away from the burning forest. Helicopters bombing the fire with water had dipped large buckets into the ocean, filled them with water and dumped them on the fire. The diver was scooped up in one of these bucket loads and dumped with the water onto the fire.
The Concrete Tomb
On a bridge built in the early part of the century, a worker up on the rigging fell into the concrete which had just been poured for pillars of the bridge. There was no chance he could live through the impact, and it would have cost so much to get his body out of the concrete that his remains stayed in the bridge, where they are to this day.
Versions of this story have been popular for years. A similar tale has a bulldozer left buried in a swamp after construction of a highway.
A postal worker in California (or Virginia, depending on the version of the legend you hear) was licking stamps and envelopes instead of using a sponge. She got a paper cut on her tongue. Sometime later, a lump developed in the spot on her tongue and it became so sore she could not eat. She went the doctor, who cut the lump open. Out crawled a cockroach. She had picked up cockroach eggs from the envelopes she was licking and one hatched inside her tongue.
Horror of insect infestation is a deep-seated human fear and there are many legends such as this impossible story.