Where is the Alligator?

While working as an ergonomic consultant for a local company a couple of years ago, I sat through the safety training that is required of all newly hired employees and contractors. The presentation was very thorough and well-done, and there was one particularly memorable part. I’ll try my best to verbally paint the picture.

The instructor showed a video of a gentleman walking near a water hazard on a golf course. Suddenly, an alligator moves along the nearby shoreline, causing the golfer to nearly jump out of his skin. A few minutes later, another golfer calmly strolls by the same hazard (clearly having been forewarned of the gator), gives it a tap on the tail with his club, and it scurries back into the water.

The point of the video was to illustrate the difference between being aware vs. unaware of nearby dangers. Having good situational awareness, if you will. The take-home message for the workers was to always “look for the alligator” when entering a work area, thereby reducing the chance of sustaining injury.

I love this concept because I think it is also a great way to stay safe around the house and yard. A healthy percentage of the more severe injuries I treat in physical therapy result from someone being surprised by something in their environment. A few examples:

  • A past patient was watching her neighbor’s small dog. After letting it in from the yard, she went to turn around in her entryway and was surprised to see the dog right behind her. To avoid stepping on it, she took an extra wide step, causing a nasty groin strain.
  • An elderly gentleman came in after surgery for a fractured hip. When I asked what caused the injury, he shook his head. “Turns out that there are 12 steps in the house I’ve lived in for 57 years, not 13. It was dark and I was expecting one more step instead of the deeper landing, lost my footing, and down I went.”
  • A young woman from Scotland was visiting her brother who lived in the area. “I went to pull what I thought was a heavy box from the closet. I gave it a good tug, but it turns out the box was empty, and over I went, (tail)-over-teakettle.”

In each of the situations, answering the question “where is the alligator?” may have prevented the injury. When pets are around, especially pets you’re not familiar with, always expect them to be underfoot. When going down stairs, be sure to have your lights turned on and your hand on a railing. When pushing, pulling, or lifting objects, do so slowly to avoid unexpected changes in weight or weight-distribution.

Anticipation is key. We’re teaching our 9-year-old daughter to try to anticipate what her 3-year-old brother might do before he does it. Do you see him headed towards the open toilet with the remote control? Chances are high that it’s going for a swim, so head him off at the bathroom door. Did he find one of your markers on the floor? Let’s take it away BEFORE he writes on the wall.

The next time you have a project to complete around the house, I’d encourage you to do a quick scan of the area to look for possible hazards. Hoses running across the yard, tools scattered on the floor, or ladders positioned on uneven surfaces are all disasters waiting to happen. Keep an eye out for those alligators!

Jeff Samyn is a Physical Therapist, board certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center in Petoskey. He can be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This information is not to be considered medical advice and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional.