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Safety Tips from the RMFMS

All of the following articles were written by:
        Mel Albright
        AFMS Safety Chairman
        RMFMS Safety Chairman


bulletElectricity in shop
bulletEye safety
bulletSnakes, bugs and varmints
bulletRotary tools
bulletHammering and picking
bulletWorking on a slope or in a hole
bulletSawing and burning

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Electricity in shop


by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

 You are peacefully working away in your rock shop. You reach over and touch the cabbing machine (or trim saw or rotary tool, or faceting machine, or whatever) when - ZAP - ZAP - electric shock hits. If you're lucky, you say YIPES and turn loose and unplug the appliance. If you're not lucky, the electricity surges through you down to your foot and into the ground and your spouse finds your body sometime later.

Exaggeration? - Unfortunately, no.

A real, common danger? - Unfortunately, yes.

So, what should you do? - Several things.

First and most important is to check ALL the wiring on ALL your machinery ALL the way from the plug to the other end. AND DO IT OFTEN. Frayed? Replace it. Loose? Tighten it. Cracked so water can enter? Replace it. Badly bent where it goes through or under? Replace it. And, if you get a "tingle" from the tool body itself - DO NOT USE IT until it's repaired or replaced.

Second, you should make sure that you are on an insulated surface while you are working. A rubber or vinyl mat. A wooden bench - not metal. A wooden stool, not metal. A wooden floor - ALWAYS kept dry. ANY other floor - ALWAYS kept dry. So, if you touch a short, you'll get a tingle, not a zap.

Third, make sure you have a grounded system and that you are using it. Modern wiring must have three wires - two carrying electricity and a grounding prong. If you don't have that, you can be in danger. If you are using an adapter to bypass the grounding prong, you can be in danger. Re-wire and ground the tool.

Finally, and best of all, install a ground fault interrupter on your system. These may either be placed on the circuits in your main breaker box by an electrician or either you or an electrician can replace the plug receptacle in the wall with one - and they are NOT very expensive. What these do is turn off the electricity a fraction of a second after a short occurs - so, if you're in the short circuit, it acts before you are shocked - and saves your life or a bad burn.

Most important - NOW is the time to think about this - not after you're shocked (or killed).

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Eye safety


by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

You're walking down the street. Tap, tap, tap - you test ahead with your cane to "see" what obstacles there might be. You can't see because you were careless for a milli-second while working with your hobby.

Sound like fun? Of course not - but it happens every year - to people just like you. Just a short spell of carelessness or one shortcut or one chance and it's all over. Just like that.

Where in our hobby might we be in danger of having something hurt our eyes? With tools - hand or power or with chemical liquids or with glues.

What tools? How? Well, start with the simplest - a rock pick or hammer. A blow from one on a rock can propel rock fragments into your eyes at a very high speed. A chisel can come out of a crack when hit and fly towards your eyes. Always use eye protection when hitting anything with anything. Any rotary tool can throw whatever touches it away at high speed. We've all had cabbing machines "grab" a cab and throw it out. A good machine is shielded and turns away from you as you use it. But, even then, things can be thrown outward and upward towards you - and your eyes. A rotary tool is being used - you "catch" on an edge - the tool and your hand are thrown up towards your face. You are leaning over close to watch your progress. That's all. Or, the rotary tool becomes fatigued and the shaft parts. The wheel and the broken shaft fly off. Towards your eyes? When it happened to me, the little rubber wheel dented the wall as if I had taken a hammer and hit the wall with all my might - but the broken shaft cut my hand first.

Liquids can splatter when mixed, when hit, or when heated - and many of them will seriously damage your eyes. There is a reminder for acid and water - AAA - ALWAYS ADD ACID to water. If you add water to acid, the heat of reaction of the mixing heats the water to steam and it explodes and throws acid all over - not mildly, but with great force - even a little bit of water. Flux hidden under a piece of metal while soldering can turn to steam and throw the metal out a great speed - or - as every silversmith knows - simply splutter and pop as it warms throwing particles out as it does. Cleaning fluids - lye, acetone, gasoline(yes, really), solvents, etc. can splash and ruin an eye.

Some glues have very dangerous chemicals included - one very common one and most dangerous for your eyes is epoxy hardener - get some on your hand, rub your eye, that's all it takes. Others also can cause eye damage, so make sure you keep your hands away from your eyes while working with glues.

Protection? Visors offer a little, safety glasses offer a lot (WalMart sells them), face shields offer a whole lot (WalMart again). Your every-day glasses offer almost none although your dealer will call them safety glasses. Get some and USE THEM EVERY TIME - WITHOUT EXCEPTION. No job is too short for an accident not to happen.

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Snakes, bugs and varmints


by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

When we are out on field trips, we should remember that we are not alone. We are visiting the home of a great number of other critters - some of whom - snakes, bugs, and varmints - are not real friendly. They even attack to protect themselves and their homes or because they are ill.

Rattlesnakes are everyones big worry, of course. With some reason, too. Their bite can be very dangerous. And, contrary to myth, they don't always rattle to warn you before they bite. Of course, there are other poisonous snakes too - the copperhead, the cottonmouth water moccasin, the coral snake. And a whole bunch of harmless ones, too. The only way out from meeting one of these snakes too closely is to not get where they are. When you are where they might be, you must ALWAYS 'look before you leap'. Before you take a step, look ahead. Before you step over a rock (or branch, or trunk, or whatever), look on the other side to see who's lying there. Before you stick your hand in a hole or behind a rock, poke around with a stick to see if it is occupied. Always go slow, so you won't "run" into a snake. And - if bitten, go immediately to a hospital. ALL the old first aid we heard about as kids is NO LONGER RECOMMENDED!

Scorpions are another danger. These range from as dangerous as a bumble bee to deadly as you go from the oak woods to the dessert. Remember, these are shy creatures. They like to hide in cracks, crevices, under rocks, under brush, in brick pile holes, in concrete blocks, in your unattended shoes, in unattended gloves, in bedrolls, or under picnic baskets - almost anywhere. So, if you stick your hands or feet into hiding places without looking first, you may get stung. Another thing, never assume a place is too small for one - they can squeeze into and through unbelievably small cracks. So - LOOK FIRST - then reach - even if you have spotted an egg size facet grade ruby. Again, if stung, it's hospital time.

Ticks, mosquitoes, flies, 'can't see-ums', chiggers and other bugs are, for the most part, irritating nuisances. They can be avoided through proper use of bug repellants and flowers of sulfur. And should be. Tick bites should be closely watched after the tick is removed. If they don't clear up immediately, check with your doctor - they may have been carrying Lyme's disease - potentially fatal if not treated.

Finally, if you see an animal - skunk, fox, squirrel, rabbit, whatever - that isn't acting naturally, then RUN the other way. One symptom of rabies is for animals to become unafraid of predators - including you. Another is for them to change normal habits- like nocturnal animals wandering around during the day. Don't make friends, feed, or approach wild animals. Avoid them.

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Rotary tools


by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

In rock hounding, our world is full of machines that go round and round - cabbing machines, rotary tools, faceting machines, saws, grinders, vacuum pumps, buffing wheels, and more. In addition to going round and round, many of these machines have belts and pulleys attached that also go round.

Every one is trying to tear off your finger - if you'll just be careless enough. Or grab your shirt (or blouse) and pull you into the works so you are nose-to-nose with a saw blade or grinding wheel or whatever. Or grab a sleeve and pull your arm into a pretzel. Or grab other things and do unpleasant things to them.

Naturally, none of these things will ever happen to you since you are lucky. But the rest of us need to learn how to develop ways of working that prevent such happenings.

First, and most commonly ignored, NEVER wear a ring while working with rotary equipment. Any snag that develops may grab a ring and jerk. And a ring is very firmly attached to your finger. So a ring is a very dangerous thing. If you don't believe this, try putting rough material into a buffer and feel, hear, and watch the violent action when the buffer 'grabs' the object. But wear a face shield if you try this - it's not worth losing an eye over.

Second, never work around rotary equipment with long sleeves on. They can catch on the rotary part (or under a belt on a V drive), wind up your sleeve and pull your arm into the machinery. Multiple compound bone breaks may be the worst you get from a small motor. A lost arm may result with a larger motor.

Third, never wear loose, baggy clothes - especially shirt or blouse - that puff out where they may be caught in the machinery. Again, they can pull you into the machinery - and often it is your face that reaches the machinery first - and the unpleasant possibilities are obvious.

Finally, the hazards of wearing gloves of any kind are also obvious.

Creating beautiful things with power tools is fun and absorbing. Getting caught can not be pleasant. Dress right and be safe.

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Hammering and picking


by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

Hammers and picks and axes are an important part of our hobby. We use them to explore, to check out a rock, to powder rocks, to form silver, to chisel loose samples, to make arrowheads, to cut firewood, and for a lot of other things. Yet, these simple tools can be very dangerous on occasion.

The most obvious and most common danger is simply to hit ourselves with them instead of a rock or log or chisel or metal piece or nugget. Why in the world does this happen? Not because we are all klutzes - in fact, almost never. Most often, it is because something moves too soon or as it is hit. Your feet shift because you are off balance when you swing the tool. Your holding hand moves because you didn't have a firm grip on what you are swinging at. Your attention is distracted as you swing (Suzie hollers 'Mommie'.). Or, your tool doesn't hit squarely and slides off into your finger, or leg, or foot. So the obvious ways not to hit your finger or your leg, or your foot is to be sure you are balanced, to make sure the item to be hit cannot move before or as it is hit, and, if at all possible, not to have fingers, legs, feet, or any other part of you where the tool will hit it if something does go wrong.

Another danger from hitting things is that the tool may bounce back into your face. The force you apply must go somewhere and some part of it returns to the tool so that it bounces. If your face happens to be in the way when it does, teeth or eyes may suffer - or bones. So, when swinging such a tool, another safety practice is to make your swing so that any recoil will push the tool sideways away from you.

An obvious danger from the use of these simple tools is that chips may fly - of rocks, or wood, or pieces of metal. If you study the physics involved in hitting something, you will find that the forces may direct the chip at high speed BACK IN THE DIRECTION FROM WHICH THE BLOW CAME. Again, if your eyes are in the way, you have a bad problem.

Finally, remember that what you hit may flip out from the force of the blow if you don't hit it dead center. While this most often results in a high speed missile sideways, it can also flip UP (as in tiddley winks) and hit you. So, place the object so if it does flip, it will go away from you and so that if it flips up, it'll go over your shoulder.

All simple ideas? Yes. All important? You Bet.

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Holes and banks


by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

Did you ever hear about the "angle of repose"? No, it's not how you stretch out when you want to rest or sleep. It is an important factor in the design of earth or rock structures - and what keeps you safe or puts you in danger when you are on a field trip. Simply, the term means that, for each material - rock or sand or earth or grain or any other mixture of particles - there is a slope, or angle, at which material starts sliding down a bank. If the pile is at a lower angle, the bank is stable. If the pile is at a higher angle, the bank is unstable - and may start sliding at any time. You've seen this effect in digging a hole. Stuff slides back in even as you are trying to dig it out. It is important to note that the slope may not slide until some outside force triggers it - witness avalanches and landslides.

So, whenever you are digging in a hole, or exploring a bank, or exploring a quarry or mine, or a rock pile or a tailings dump, you are counting on the angle of repose to keep you safe and not allow you to be suddenly buried under a bunch of dirt or rocks. And the angle of repose is not constant. Wet material may slide much easier than dry. So what was safe before the rain is unsafe after the rain. Remember, too,that ALL tailings and other mine dumps are at their angle of repose because of the way they were made.

The unfortunate part is that you cannot know whether the material around you is at it's angle of repose or above it. So, you cannot know if you are safe or whether a blow from your shovel will trigger a slide or someone walking above you or what. And, almost every day we read or hear about someone dying because of the failure of a bank - in mines, in quarries, children digging caves, rockhounds hunting rocks, workmen digging ditches.

So how do you work safely? Well, if you are digging, always dig a hole - NOT a cave (even a little one). And, although it's far more work, dig the hole with gradually sloping sides. And, if on a rock pile or tailings dump, be sure there's no one above you who might start a slide. And, if around a bank, test it a little with a hard blow or two or a "stomp", and, again, be sure there's no one working above you. And, in every case, wear a safety helmet - the proverbial 'hard hat'. WalMart carries them - and they are not expensive.

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Sawing and burning


by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

Rock Saws are wonderful gadgets. You put a rock in, clamp it, turn on the saw, walk off and do something else, and later, when you think of it, you go out and start over on the next slab slice. Simple isn't it? Ain't life grand? All mod. con.

However, with all this convenience comes some safety problems and some economic worries. Both lie in the rock clamp and the feeding mechanism. Simply put, things can go wrong when least expected.

The biggest worry comes because rocks sometimes work loose from the clamp, turn sideways and seize the saw blade. On most rock saws, this stops the blade, but not the motor. So, the motor pulley keeps turning while the drive belt does not. This generates heat which can and has started fires - first the belt, then the saw oil, then the garage. It happened to a friend of mine. Luckily, the house was saved.

To prevent such a problem from hitting you, always stay where you can hear the saw so that you'll immediately know if something goes wrong. My friend has a good solution with his new saw in his new garage. He bought two cheaply kids walky-talkies - tapes the transmitter open on one and sets it by the saw - keeps the other near himself inside so he can always hear the saw. No worries, now.

The economic problems arise when the saw is not started into the rock properly or when the rock shifts slightly while being sawed. Many drive mechanisms exert considerable force on the saw. When the blade tries to cut a side-ways circular path, the drive keeps pushing and you end up with a blade shaped like a dish - and the opportunity to buy a new one. Eventually, the blade will seize and the fire problem will appear, but by then it's too late to save the blade. Solution? I start the saw into a cut by hand pushing the rock into the saw and then pulling it off. I repeat this until I can see the saw blade does not deflect sideways when the saw first meets the rock. Then I engage the drive mechanism and let the automatic system complete the cut. Messy, but far less a problem than buying new blades - and maybe having a fire.

Sometimes, you get a rock that just will not stay in the vise - often, it's Brazilian agate teardrop shaped. The solution is to enclose the rock in plaster of paris in a square mold and then clamping the cast into the saw. This also avoids the problems mentioned above.

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by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

All of us enjoy breathing. Some of us know it's not always easy - allergies, hay fever, asthma, emphysema, or loss of a lung can interfere. Yet many of us in the rockhound hobby blythly ignore the fact that we often work with materials that are dangerous to breathe or damaging to our lungs or, sometimes, fatal.

What are these materials?

Fumes from heating or burning are one source. Burning off flux, heating cleaners, burning glues or paints, heating minerals, burning off wax - these can all produce fumes that are potentially harmful. Any heating or burning should be done in a well ventilated place, in a protective ventilator hood or outdoors. The airflow should move from you to your working area to outdoors or some other safe area. A kitchen stove hood with side walls from the hood to the workbench works great.

Fumes from chemicals are another source. Glues (household, epoxy, etc.), paints, solvents (acetone, benzene, toluene, terps, odorless solvents), thinners, oxidizers, bleaches, acids (hydrochloric, sulfuric, nitric, fluoric) and other material we use all release possibly dangerous materials into the air. In fact, we often identify these things by smell. Some of these things - like benzene - cause problems only if used often over a long period of time. Others - like hydrogen fluoride (fluoric acid) - cause bad problems instantly. Again - ventilation is the solution.

Dusts from rocks can also be dangerous. They can cause silicosis (or pneumonoultramicripicsilicovolcanocobiosis*) such as from too much agate dust over too long a period. They can be poison such as dust from malachite. Anything we do that is done dry can and does produce dust - especially grinding. Again ventilation is a solution provided you cannot use water or oil to prevent dust release. Or wear a good dust mask - WalMart available.

Remember - you get the fresh air first, then it moves to your work, then it goes outside or somewhere else safe. EVERY time.

* Look it up.

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by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

Sunshine is shining. Rockhounds are hunting. And unprotected skin is turning red and burning. In 10 or 15 or 20 years, someone - maybe you - will be saying, "Why oh why didn't I listen to people back then. I don't want skin cancer. No!"

Skin cancer is the fastest growing form of cancer these days. And most of it harks back to when it was considered stylish and good looking to have a good tan. In our youth, many of us managed to get awesome burns. And now we hear that just one bad burn as a child doubles our chance of skin cancer later in life!

What to do? Wear suitable clothing - hats, dense cloth shirts and pants, no shorts. Apply protective sun screen to ALL exposed areas when you are going to be outdoors. If possible, stay indoors or in the shade during the time of greatest danger - 9 AM to 5 PM under daylight savings time.

What is a suitable sunscreen? It is one labeled with a protective factor of 15 or more. The number refers to a degree of protection - with a 15 factor, you can stay out 15 times as long as usual before you get a sunburn. NOTICE - it delays - not prevents. So if you normally sunburn in 20 minutes (yes, light skinned people do), then with a SPF 15 applied, you can stay out 300 minutes (5 hours) before you are sunburned. Best are waterproof, non-allergenic sprays, creams or lotions.

Are you already in trouble? Do you have an irregularly shaped or varied colored mole anywhere on your body? Or one which is changing shape or size? Is it 5 mm or more? You may have deadly, fast spreading melanoma. If so, you'd better have it checked - REAL SOON. Odds of this are 1 in 105 and 22 percent will die. Do you have rough patches on your skin? Little dry white clumps? Or dry patches? Then you might have actinic keratomas which can evolve into cancer. Easily treated. Again, get checked - SOON. Basal cell cancers are small fleshy bumps or nodules. 400,000 people a year get these. If untreated, they will bleed and crust over again and again. Squamous cell cancers start as nodules or red, scaly patches. 100,000 people a year get these and 2200 die. Obviously, this stuff isn't for fooling around about. Take action, NOW!

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Hello - 911?

by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

Have you ever considered rockhounding as a fire hazard? Do you ignore the possibility? Do you have 911 memorized? Some spare skin stored up? A wig to replace your natural hair?

Well, maybe we should all slow down and consider what all we have around that might catch fire and burn. Rocks? Well, no - unless you have some Colorado oil shale. But oils and solvents and glues? You bet they will.

If I look around my shop, I find acetone (for cleaning off facet material, for releasing epoxy, for releasing super glue), kerosene, refractive index oil, saw oil, machine oil, super glue, epoxy paint and glue, household cement (one of the most dangerous), alcohol, and, occasionally, commercial solvents for various purposes. And the proverbial oily rags. And a wastebasket I haven't emptied for several years. Every one of these will burn. And I bet you have some I don't have. Some will ignite extremely easily - acetone and alcohol for example. And my shop is indoors. Shame on me - not one solvent is in a safety container. Not one glue is in a fireproof box. And I seldom worry about ventilation when I use these things. I've been lucky - not careful.

They tell us it takes three things to have a fire - heat, fuel, and oxygen. As I have shown, most all of us have the fuel. The oxygen is in the air all around us. The only thing needed to start a fire is heat - from a torch - from a soldering iron - from an alcohol lamp - from a sparking brush on a motor - from smoking - from a spark when using a tool (remember flint and steel fire-starter kits?).

Solutions? Keep all solvents outdoors in a safe location. Bring in only small quantities, in a safety container, and have them in only for the time you need them. Place glues and the like in a metal box with a lid. Remove oily rags and other combustible materials and discard them. Practice good housekeeping. Be aware of fire danger and avoid it at all times. And, MOST IMPORTANT, keep a Class A,B,C fire extinguisher in your shop. The A,B,C ratings mean that it is good for any fire - paper/wood, electrical, or solvent. Be sure you know how to use it. It's hard to read the instructions while a fire is burning in your shop.

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by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

Have your ever thought that most of us own a chemical laboratory? That we work often with hazardous chemicals? That we'd probably be in trouble if OSHA and EPA could see what we are doing?

First, let me say, as a Chemical Engineer and a life-long Research and Development worker, that a good deal of OSHA and EPA warning and rules and the like about chemicals are far, far overblown. BUT, some are not. AND, if you're not an expert, you probably can't tell the difference. If you wonder why I say that things are overblown, just consider that vinegar odor is listed as being of the same class of hazard as fumes from hydrochloric acid. A lump of lead on the table poses no danger to you while a lead salt in solution in something you eat or drink can be dangerous. Other examples abound.

Why say all this? Because, you SHOULD ALWAYS use common sense when working with any chemical but you SHOULD NOT be so frightened by the government that you are afraid of chemicals. After all, salt, baking soda, vinegar, your medicine, cough syrup, detergents, cleaners, lye, bleach, and many, many other common household items ARE chemicals. So, having said all that, I'll cover the most important items about working with chemicals.

First - READ THE LABEL AND ANY ATTACHED LITERATURE!!! All the really dangerous chemicals are required to have safety information with them. If you aren't sure, write the manufacturer and ask for the safety sheet on the chemical. They're required by law to send it to you.

Second - USE COMMON SENSE. Don't ask for troubles you don't need to have. If it smells, use in a ventilated area or outdoors. Don't get things on your skin if there's no reason to do so - wear gloves. If it'll splash, protect your eyes.Take care not to spread things around. Getting something on your hand might be safe, but it might be very dangerous to then rub your eyes with your hand. If you are going to boil or burnout or apply a torch or otherwise heat a chemical - DO NOT BREATH THE FUMES. EVER!! ALWAYS ventilate to the outdoors.

Third - DON'T MIX CHEMICALS. Some chemicals are safe by themselves, but react to form dangerous products when mixed. The classic example is household bleach and bowl cleaner - they react to form chlorine gas which can burn your eyes, nose, throat and lungs - permanently. Clean up one thing before starting with the next.

Fourth - STORE CHEMICALS PROPERLY. Keep unused chemicals tightly sealed in their original storage container. If they offer any fire hazard, keep them outside, away from wooden structures.

Fifth - Remember AAA - ALWAYS ADD ACID to water to dilute it or clean it up. There's a high heat of solution and, if you do it the other way, the water will be heated and form steam and then 'blow up' and blow acid all over the place AND YOU.

What chemicals do rockhounds use? A bunch. Too many to list. They include acids, bases, glues, oxidizers, reducers, fluxes, solvents, pickles, cleaners, and more. Don't be afraid to use them. Do use them safely and properly. Then you'll have no problems. And, never, never hurry. Think about it before you start.

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by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

It's a wonderful day. We have gone on a field trip. We're out there, well away from the car when, rumble, rumble. We look around. There's a big black thunderstorm bearing down on us. It has lots of lightening. And the lightening is hitting the ground. Panic time? No. Action time? Yes. Don't panic, but do know what to do.

First, let's talk about an imminent lightening strike. I've been near 3 in my life. Your hair stands on end. Nearby wiring or fencing has sparks flying around. A sizzling/frying sound can be heard. Then Zap, the lightening hits. Then you hear it. Then you smell the ozone it created. Then you start shaking. All in a few seconds.

But you do have time to protect yourself somewhat. On your knees, IMMEDIATELY. Grab your ankles and bend over as low as you can get - you do NOT want to be the tallest thing around. Do NOT lie flat on the ground.

If you have a little more time and a little more warning, you can do much better. First choice - take shelter inside a building or car and stay away from wiring and plumbing. Contrary to rumors - the new tires do NOT conduct electricity.

Second choice - don't take shelter outdoors under anything - tree, tent, whatever. Put down anything you are holding that might conduct electricity (like a golf club, geologists pick, etc.). Avoid fences, tracks, machinery, poles, power or phone lines and water. If you are in a body of water, get out fast. If you are in a boat, head for shore and get out, fast. If you are in a group of people, spread way out. If you have a plastic or rubber sheet or raincoat, put it under you. It's much better to get wet.

Thunderstorms can be beautiful and exciting and welcome, but don't forget - they're dangerous, too.

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by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

Are you the type of rockhound that has everything you need for your hobby? Do you consider your equipment complete. Are you all decked out with all the gadgets you need? May I suggest another group you may not have? Safety equipment. It's all available at WalMart, at your local hardware store, at the pesticide store, at local stores specializing in safety. Most are inexpensive. All are inexpensive compared to the injuries, losses and deaths they may prevent. A few:

Hearing protectors. These vary from foam plugs for your ears to special plugs that allow you to hear speech to earmuff types like you've seen baggage handlers wear at the airport to super-duper ones that are electronic and cancel out undesirable sound waves.

Masks. There are a great variety of types. The simplest are simple dust masks - with or without eye covering. Then there are solvent masks for use when around solvents. And chemical masks for use when around undesirable chemicals and in spraying pesticides. And special masks for special things - asbestos, carbon monoxide, chlorine, etc. And the most sophisticated which either supply air with them or have tubes leading out of the dangerous zone to an air supply.

Shoes.There are safety shoes. They have a steel cap in the toe which protects your feet from heavy objects hitting them. There are rubber boots to protect you from water and dangerous sludges (or fresh cement). There are hiking boots especially designed to support your ankles in rough terrain.

Fire Extinguishers. There are three general types - no matter what chemicals are inside them. One (Class A) is for use only on fires such as paper and wood. One (Class B) is for use on electrical fires. One (Class C) is for use on solvent type fires. Some fillers are safe for use on more than one class of fire - and will be labeled for more than one class. Best of all is a Class A,B,C extinguisher which is good for any fire. They come in several sizes. Little ones are cheap, but often run out too soon. Get a larger one.

Gloves. Gloves do more than stop blisters. They also protect the hands. Best for hand labor are leather type ones such as the horsehide ones found in farm and garden stores. The other type is plastic or rubber which will protect the hands from solvents, acids and or hazardous materials.

Eye and Face shields. These come from the simple safety goggle (which will go over your glasses, if needed.), to safety glasses (NO, your "safety" glasses from the optometrist do NOT qualify - industrial standard safety glasses are needed.), to face shields which cover both the eyes and the whole face.

Aprons. Cloth aprons protect your clothing from messes. Rubber or plastic ones protect you from chemical burns and the like.

Hard Hat. Approved hard hats are readily available and work wonders when something falls on your head. Cold? Wool liners are available.

The compleate rockhound probably has all of these - do you?

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by Mel Albright - RMFMS Safety Chairman

"Hey, y'all, - we've got us a convoy here."

We rockhounds go on lotsa field trips. Often we go in convoys. Mostly, some- one says "Follow me.", we all pile into our trucks or cars, and away we go. Sad to say, we're not really thinking about safety. So let's do that a little while.

First, before you leave, everyone should get full information about where you're going and how you'll get there. Then, as the convoy goes along, no one will get frantic about losing it and missing out on the trip. That way, they'll pay attention to what's going on around them instead of worrying. A quick copy of a hand drawn map or a written directions would be best. Otherwise, talk slow so people can make notes.

First, let's talk about the leader(s). The first car should contain the guide who knows exactly how to get there AND the first car should have a CB radio AND the first car should have a cruise control. The last car should also contain a guide who knows how to get there and a CB radio. That way, the last guy can tell the lead car when to slow down, to speed up, that there's a problem, or what else is happening. If someone has car trouble, the "tail-end Charlie" can also make sure they get the help they need and get on to the field trip if they want to.

The speed of the convoy is important. Ever watch a kid pull a Slinky across the rug while holding one end? The coils close up and spread out at random. The back end is standing still one minute and then moving way faster then the front end the next. Well - that's what happens in a convoy. If all the cars went real slow, this stretching and shrinking might not be too bad. If they went real fast, things might get out of hand. And, there's always road conditions, traffic lights, stop signs, and other traffic to worry about. So, the first car should adjust speed according to what's going on. On a 4-lane, speed up (see below). On a dusty road with no wind blowing, slow way down. After a stop sign or after a traffic light or after a turn, slow way down until "tail-end Charlie" reports being by the point of change. On the open road, set the cruise control at 5 to 10 miles per hour under the speed limit. Then the stretching and shrinking won't get out of hand and no one will worry about getting left behind and the last car won't have to drive 80 once in a while.

If you're driving in the convoy, there are some things to pay attention to, also - like the plate number and color of the car you should be behind. Your distance behind the car in front should be as constant as you can make it. For safety reasons, you should observe the 2-second rule - never be closer than 2 seconds behind (count "one thousand one, one thousand two"). If you see a car behind that isn't in the convoy and wants to pass, open up your spacing so they won't feel that they have to pass several cars at once. That way, they probably won't tail-gate you, either. Do you remember the old saying "Monkey see, monkey do"? That should be you in a convoy. If the car leading you shows brake lights, step on your brakes. If it shows a turn signal, turn on your signal. If it changes lanes, you change lanes. If it speeds up or slows down, you do the same. If it pulls to the shoulder, you do too. And if you have a CB, great - tune in on the conversation, but don't join in unless there's a real emergency.

And when you all get there with no problems, smile and start hunting that find of a lifetime.

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