Able to leap from or onto a pickup truck tailgate with a single bound. Faster than anyone on the crew. Stronger than a locomotive. These are things I used to do and think when I was younger. Now that I’m older, my body is telling me I’m not so tough now. Nowadays, I take a handful of vitamins to keep me going, and a bottle of aspirin or Ibuprofen is usually by my bedside and in my truck.
During my prime years of installation I really didn’t think about what my body would be like in my 50s. Now that I’m in my 50s, I look back and think how foolish I was at times, trying to lift things without thinking about my back or working without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
They say things start to go at 50. I believe that now. Over the years I’ve had issues with my back, and now my feet for some reason. Then there is my hearing—my wife says I need a hearing aid, and I don’t think my loss of hearing is simply selective hearing.
I remember back in the ‘80s and ‘90s asbestos was the thing to avoid. The entire flooring industry worked its way through that and now products and adhesives are more environmentally friendly and much safer for us all. We still encounter products containing asbestos that have been previously installed, but it seems installers for the most part are taking precautions to protect themselves and the end-users against any OSHA violations, and manufacturers now have products to encapsulate asbestos-containing materials.
Next came the lead issues with paint. We’ve been dealing with this for a few years now, and those in the flooring industry somehow got put into the requirements by the EPA of having to get certified for the removal and understanding of what (and what not) to do with lead-containing paint in homes and businesses built prior to 1978.
Now comes the latest: silica dust exposure. The government is creating regulations regarding the exposure level to workers. The entire construction industry is trying to figure out how the regulations are going to affect all of us. As installers, we didn’t used to have to grind concrete slabs the way we do nowadays—slabs were much flatter back in the “old days.” Now we are having to either grind, patch, or self-level on almost every job we install.
If you are using a grinder on a concrete slab, or using any products with silica, be aware regulations are coming your way, and you will need to be prepared to address these regulations with your company.
So what can I tell you to do with your body to help minimize getting too old too fast, now that the government has addressed issues concerning our health and safety?
First thing in the morning, get up and stretch yourself. You’ll be surprised how much better your body will perform. We all did this in gym class growing up, but it seems as we get older—and business becomes too hectic—we forget about our bodies and the need to take care of them. I know I did.
Next, drink plenty of water! And again, drink plenty of water! I can tell you this from experiencing cramps in my legs every now and then as I’ve gotten older. I don’t drink enough myself and my wife keeps reminding me to drink more water, because she is the one having to rub out the cramps in the middle of the night (yes, that’s when they hit you). This might sound gross, but I even keep a bottle of pickle juice in the fridge to drink when I get cramps, since they say vinegar can help with cramps. I’ll try anything to get rid of them. But if you want to avoid them in the first place, once again, drink plenty of water during the day.
Safety glasses. I know they fog up when you get hot and you can’t see out of them, but remember you only have one pair of eyes, and there are anti-fogging products available. Keeping safety glasses up on your forehead does no good. Sure, they may protect the front of your forehead but we all know installers are hard-headed anyway, so wear them over your eyes where they’ll do the most good.
Also wear a dust mask. We are exposed to wood dust, silica dust and solvents—all of which are carcinogenic if you don’t take the proper precautions. Wear the appropriate dust mask for what you’re working around. A simple dust mask may not be what you need; you may need a respirator type of mask.
Hearing protection, virtually unheard of back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. We didn’t need hearing protection—it just blocked out the sounds of good ol’ rock n’ roll. The louder the better! I can tell you from experience that it will catch up to you sooner or later, probably sooner. Having headphones or earbuds making you feel like you are in a concert hall and enabling you to crank up the volume may not be the best for your hearing as you get older. We work around tools that create quite a bit of noise: floor sanding equipment, tile saws, grinders and even vacuums. So take care of your hearing now, so you can listen to your loved ones when they speak to you!
By trying to take care of yourself now, you’ll be able to keep the kryptonite away from you in your later years, and actually be the Superman (or Superwoman) who is still in good health—and with an “Up, up and away!” still has the ability to enjoy time with family and friends.