Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

An Andy Rooney Moment

Friday I hitched up my tiller and headed out to plow the back 40 -- well actually the back three quarters. The tiller has a big label with a cartoon of a guy getting wrapped around the drive line. Warning! Risk of injury or death! Stay away from drive line while tiller is operating! On the other side, is a cartoon of a guy being, well, tilled. Warning! Risk of injury or death! Stay away from rotating tines!

Uhuh. Sounds like good advice. The tractor itself (made far, far away across the mighty Pacific Ocean -- I was gonna do my patriotic duty and buy American but I determined that John Deere buys the exact same tractor in the mysterious orient and paints it green, so I figured I'd save a few bucks and keep the orange paint) has a label showing a cartoon of some clown driving with the loader straight up in the air as high as it will go, right into some power lines. Warning! Risk of injury or death! Do not contact power lines with loader! More sage advice, I have to agree.

On the back, it says, Do not operate PTO without the shield in place! (For you city slickers, the Power Take Off is a splined shaft that drives the equipment attached to the tractor.) Naturally, the first thing I did before I hitched up the tiller was to remove the PTO shield, which is what everybody else who owns this particular model of tractor does. It's a royal pain in the ass, exactly in the way when you're trying to get a driveline onto the PTO which is hassle enough without it. It's function is to protect against the possibility that somebody will walk along beside you while you're tilling, bend over and stick the end of his necktie into the driveline universal joint. That would be really, really bad I have to agree.

There's one of those industry funded "grassroots" organizations out in Michigan that claims our civilization is being destroyed by frivolous lawsuits, and that "wacky warning labels" prove it. They run a contest every year to collect the wackiest and indeed, they have come up with a few. This year's winner is a toilet brush labeled "Do not use for personal hygeine." (It pains me to link to these charlatans but I stole their shit so here's Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch .)

These labels do rate a laugh but they only cost a penny or two to apply. The PTO shield, like the blade guard that comes with every table saw to be immediately and permanently removed, is kind of dumb but it does establish the principle -- this thing is dangerous, you're responsible. But what's really important is that the lawsuits that bring these oddities about aren't frivolous and they aren't harmful.

My tractor is in fact a lot safer than the tractors of yesteryear. The most common cause of tractor accidents is hitting a stump or a sinkhole, falling off, and getting one or more body parts removed by the trailing machinery. That can't happen to me. If I'm out of the seat, the engine shuts off, unless the machine is in neutral with the parking brake on. I may someday succumb to the temptation to have a fatal sexual encounter with a rotating drive line, but I won't be killed by accident.

The truth is that consumer products and industrial machinery both, thanks to lawsuits and to regulation, are far safer now than they used to be. Riding in a car is much safer. Your toaster and your food processor are safer. Your household electrical system, the machinery you or your cousin or your daughter uses at work, amusement park rides, and yup, my tractor, are all safer thanks to greedy trial lawyers and their grasping, America-hating brain damaged amputee clients. (On a note of personal pride, my father invented a device to prevent hydraulic shear operators from parting company with their hands. His former employer holds the patent, or I wouldn't be wasting my time with this shit.)

Yeah, the warning labels are amusing. But getting a yuck or two is not exactly a a bad thing.

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