Young worker safety – Tim’s story

Young worker safety – Tim’s story


Tim had just started his second year as
an apprentice electrician, and the electrical contractor that Tim worked for
had a job to service signs for a fast food outlet. And for this particular task
they were starting in Brisbane, travelling all the way through
Queensland. I think that there was a lot of expectation on a very young set of
shoulders. He just tried to do the right thing and tried to earn the respect of
the employer so he could be called a good employee. I do remember the
morning that I last saw him. I remember his bag, I remember his jacket, I
remember the way he looked. And I just remember saying goodbye, and I never realised
that was the last time I was going to see him in any way at all that I could
recognise my son. The day at all turned pear-shaped was the
14th of August. It was the last job on this run that the boys had been doing
from Brisbane through to Cairns. The work that Tim was doing was very much
electrical work. They were exchanging the light bulbs, they were changing the
ballast, they had to check all the wiring and stuff inside. Working inside the
signs was not live work because they could unplug it, so that created a level of
protection there. They had a bit of trouble trying to find a position to
park the elevated work platform on the day. When I look back at where it was, I
couldn’t think of a worse place to park it.
The supervisor put it directly under high-voltage power lines. They’d worked for a while, had morning tea,
and it was the first task after morning tea. The supervisor was doing some other
work and he put Tim into the elevator work platform, and Tim had large aluminium
rods in the bucket that he must have been taking back up to reinstall in the sign.
When the bucket got up high enough, he wasn’t being watched so he didn’t have a
spotter to keep an eye on him. He’s almost going straight up and the metal
that he had in the bucket with him has gone well into the exclusion zones and
either contacted the line or gone very close to it so that it’s arced over. Yeah. He got the full force of all that power all
over him and right through him. They were able to actually manually lower the EWP from the
ground. When they got it down, it was just basically a charred body. It was just a
devastating scene. It was a bit like a trauma zone. There was burnt equipment,
burnt clothing. I remember they gave us back his safety
boots. Even that were burnt. The ambulance that picked him up from
the accident scene took him to the Cairnes Base Hospital, and he was taking
him into intensive care. And just to see Tim there, I didn’t even recognise it was
my own son. I just hope and pray no other poor parent has to walk in and find what
I found that day. My beautiful boy was not a beautiful boy –
he was devastated. Burns are such an awful, awful injury to suffer. I’d
sit. I didn’t know what to do. About day seven or day eight, the doctor came in and
said, “If he stays here, he will die. If he has any chance of living, it’s a matter
of getting onto a flying doctor flight and getting him to Brisbane.” And they put him on a plane. There was
nowhere to be able to hug or touch. The only part that wasn’t burnt was the top
of his head. And I remember patting the top of his head, thinking, “This is probably the
last time I’ll see you alive, mate.” He was in absolutely atrocious condition.
He was close to death. He was burnt over a considerable amount of his body and he’d had a deep passage of current in a few places as well, and so that makes it
pretty horrible. Tim never really regained consciousness, or what you could call
consciousness. Tim underwent a series of major surgeries. So much of my memory of Tim is that month of just seeing him burnt and devastated. I just can’t seem
to shake it. I want to remember him when he learnt to
ride his bike the first time, I want to remember him when he was first riding a
motorbike or driving a car, and my memory is not that – my memory is that month, and it
is so hard. And it happened in 1999, and I still have it with me. At the time, I just
couldn’t come to terms with it, myself. I was thinking, “He’ll be right. He’ll
come home, he’ll come home.” When you get a phone call at midnight, it’s never a
good thing. And we answered it and they just said, “Just come now. Just come.” We
sprinted to the hospital and pulled up out the front and jumped out and ran up
the emergency ward, and it was my beautiful boy.
My 17-year-old son. My firstborn. The pride of my life. I couldn’t comprehend
it. At the time of Tim’s death, he was 17 and four months old. He didn’t get to 18. We’ll never get to 18. Tim’s death was so easily avoidable. In
my opinion, why this occurred is that the risks weren’t managed properly. In this
case, I believe there was a number of things that went wrong. The bottom line
is that the vehicle should have been parked and positioned in such a way as
that they couldn’t come within those exclusion zones. Or if there was no way
that they could do that safely, that they should have stopped the job and
negotiated how to do it better or got in contact with the boss. He was under the
age of 18, he shouldn’t have been operating it, and if he was going to
operate it, he should have been under really close supervision. The safety
observer / supervisor was on the ground doing
some other work and wasn’t actually looking at the time. If you need a safety
observer, that’s a full-time job. And the bucket that Tim was standing in wasn’t
even insulated. So uninsulated EWP, not wearing enough protective clothing to
stop from the flash burns, not having supervision – they are some really basic
things. And then dealing with a young person. It’s just a fact of life that
when people are young, they don’t believe anything can ever happen to them; they’re bulletproof. You’re not. You know, I could walk you outside and
show you 20 or 30 people right now who [are the] same age, same gender, and they’re
certainly not bulletproof. You just can’t be too careful. If it gets you, you’re
dead or you’re devastated. You’re wrecked. With younger people,
sometimes when apprentices are fresh out of school, they’re not as confident as
old apprentices and they won’t speak up, they’ll just do what they’re told. It’s
really important to speak because you’re messing with your life as well as
everyone around you. Make sure all the apprentices know that it’s okay to speak
up and that you won’t sound like an idiot for
speaking up if you feel unsafe. Definitely instill into them the
importance of communication, confidence. If you get that gut feeling that, “Hey, oh,
this isn’t right,” or, “I’m not sure about this.” If you’re not 100% about doing anything,
then best just ask someone else. I think about everyone else in the workplace and
how to be safe for everyone, not just myself. It’s all the team effort. It’s not
just everybody looking after the apprentice – the apprentice has got to
look after himself, other apprentices, other team members. It’s watching each
other’s back. We’ve got the buddy system in place so that way, if someone does get
hurt, there’s another person there. Younger
workers, they don’t have the life experience. Generally if you’ve got an
apprentice who lacks experience and maturity, they’re going to take shortcuts,
gonna be less aware of hazards and the risks involved, and more likely prone to
get injured. Manage those hazards well before the 17-year-olds have to make a
decision that they may not be well equipped for. And that’s where
supervision definitely plays a big part. A key message from me, for what it’s
worth, is a young apprentice can never assume that they know what they’re doing,
so to always relay information back to the tradesmen, what they believe they’ve
got to do and what’s expected. I’ve been in safety for a very long period of time
and often get told the story that sometimes the safety steps that people
want to put in place are too hard. it takes too much work. I can tell you a much
harder job I had, and that was trying to work out what to put on Tim’s headstone. you

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