EVANSTON — Upon walking into James Reynold’s woodshop class at Evanston High School, first impressions are that the room is impeccably organized and that safety is a top priority.
A “Think Safety” sign hangs prominently above the shop entrance, followed by the cabinet of safety glasses. No hats are allowed in the woodshop, and each machine has a bright yellow line painted around it on the floor and warning signs are posted around the room — on walls, hanging from the ceiling, near specific machines. Reynolds also prohibits students from using some tools, such as the table saw, which he operates when needed.
Before kids can touch any of the tools, they also have to go through two weeks of safety training and pass a 69-question safety test; they cannot miss more than seven questions if they are to participate in the class. Before students take the test, Reynolds gives them an in-depth tour of the woodshop, demonstrating what they need to know and telling them the dangers.
Students have to know what kind of dangers there are, which hand they should use for certain tasks, how close they or their wood should be to a machine, when they should use safety glasses, the importance of being aware of cords and other people, which machines are in the shop (and where), what is never allowed in the shop and more.
The state provides oversight as well; OSHA comes through on a regular basis to check the safety equipment and procedures, and Evanston’s fire marshal comes through as well.
Reynolds also sends home an information sheet — available in Spanish as well as English — that parents have to sign. In it, Reynolds explains the class rules and policies. In the very first paragraph, though, he points out the danger inherent in working with the machines.
“All machines will be demonstrated by the instructor and your child will know the dos and don’ts of each machine,” the letter reads. “If your son/daughter chooses not to follow directions or use good judgment, there is a chance of them getting hurt.”
However, no matter what his precautions, Reynolds walks into class each and every day expecting that will be the day someone loses a finger. He said he tries to teach kids not to react immediately to things and to think an extra second, especially since most injuries happen when someone is reaching suddenly for something. He also keeps an eye on what’s going on in the classroom, ready to shout warnings if need be — and if his feet can’t move quickly enough.
“You can put out all the precautions you want,” Reynolds said, “but you’re not going to stop some things.”
He still vividly remembers a day in 1982 when a girl he had taught for four years cut off two fingers after pushing a board through a machine and reaching under the guard. That incident in 1982 was the last major incident Reynolds has had in his shop (although he has taken 16 kids to the hospital in 37 years), but he refuses to lapse into complacency.
One of Reynold’s current students, Cortney Stratton, has been in woodshop for four years and remembers only one incident in that time when someone wasn’t careful with a boring machine. She said that, as long as students pay attention to what they’re doing and watch their hands constantly, accidents really don’t happen. What students learn, though, is invaluable — Stratton said she learns time management, organization and patience, besides other things.
Major incidents still happen, though, a fact driven home last week by an incident at Rich High when a girl cut off her hand. School district officials have not returned any of the Herald’s phone calls.
Surgeons in Salt Lake City have managed to reattach her left hand in a 15-hour surgery that required them to use some secondary arteries to reestablish blood flow to the major arteries in her hand.
According to the GoFundMe page set up by the teen’s brother, it is still uncertain whether the hand will live, but doctors are doing all they can to save it.
The family has asked for privacy as they help their daughter along her path to healing.