Tony Jaksa Sr. was in the business of emergency response his whole working life, including investigating industrial accidents, working as an EMT, on a HazMat team, on a confined space rescue team—you name it, he has probably seen or investigated unsafe behaviors that have led to accidents. But when it came to taking care of his two young grandchildren, Jaksa realized that safe habits begin as soon as children are taught them. He’s currently working on a series of picture books he hopes will give youngsters a beginner’s course in safe behaviors.
— Kathleen Stoehr
When did you realize you wanted to go further with your knowledge and teach it to your grandchildren?
I always had a response for whatever the problem or emergency was. I’ve interviewed workers on the kind of injuries they encountered and what they were doing right before it happened, and then explained what they needed to do to be more aware the next time. But I was never more unprepared than when my grandkid was hurt—you know, scraped elbows and the like. I’ve been doing this all my life with adults. But kids? It’s a horrible, deep feeling to see an injured child. Sometimes hugs and bandages won’t fix the problem. Made me want to do something about it.
So now you have a mission.
Yes. I’ve been trying to stop injuries from occurring for many years and I’ve come to the realization that changing a 40-year-old’s behavior might be more akin to a transplant than a change. Take the 40-year-old millwright. He has one finger missing and there’s still nothing he can do wrong, in his opinion. But kids, if we start teaching them early about safe behaviors, things might turn out differently.
How have your grandchildren taken to your safety talks?
I’m so impressed with my grandkids. My granddaughter likes questions like, “Do you know what eyes on the path means?” My grandson is working on three points of contact as he ventures up trees, ladders, and anything that stands vertically. They’re right there, they’re digging right into it, and they grasp it matter-of-factly. That’s what impressed me. They are so eager and once they grab onto something and learn—it’s there. It’s either going to be them seeing what we do at risk, or what they have learned to do safely.
What’s the most important thing a parent can do to start moving in the direction of being more safety-minded?
To me, the most important thing for a parent to do is to understand if they themselves are giving examples of “at risk” behaviors—because we are being watched by our children, 100 percent. They don’t miss a thing, so to me that’s the ultimate: if we don’t get it right in our heads, they’re not going to get it right in their heads.
Learning safety can be and should be part of growing up and not a rule, a law, or a speech they hear when they are hurting from an injury. All little kids can learn safe action and it’s easier for them to learn it, if it comes first in the learning curve.