Eight brave men and women are sharing their experiences of workplace tragedy to inspire workers to put safety first. These Workplace Health and Safety Queensland advocates for safety have all experienced trauma directly or indirectly.
As part of a free service, they regularly speak at workplaces to increase awareness about the importance of work health and safety and, where needed, inspire change.
After a fall
One of the advocates, Gavan McGuane, spoke at more than 25 workplaces in October for National Safe Work Month. He tells people about the day in 1994 when he was blinded after falling at work.
Gavan tripped on a rubber floor mat that was curled up at the edges. As he fell, he grabbed onto a beer keg that was full of gas, which shot up into both his eyes. He now has just 20 per cent vision.
“I’ve copped the accident through no one else’s fault but my own, so I’ve just got to wear it and get on with life—I haven’t got a choice,” he says.
Ever since his two-month stint in hospital, Gavan has been motivated to ensure others don’t go through life-changing injuries such as his.
“I wanted to repay the doctor, the ophthalmologist and the nurses at the hospital, so I went and worked at the Gold Coast Hospital one or two days a week, just trying to help people who had had accidents,” he says.
“I wanted to help them get their minds strong again, because after the accident it helps to cope with what you’ve got to live with.
“Then I thought, bugger this, maybe I’ll get involved in preventing accidents. So I rang Work Safety and they came out and made a video and I got to trying to convince them that it’s probably better off someone going out into the workplace and talking about it.”
After a shock
Fellow safety advocate Bill Martin visits workplaces to talk about his son, Tim, a second-year electrical apprentice who died when he was just 17 years old after sustaining an electric shock.
Talking about Tim’s death is emotionally exhausting for Bill, but he says he desperately wants to save others from going through the heartbreak his family endured.
“If I can be the trigger that starts a safer line of thinking, I’m happy to be the person who gets up at 4 o’clock in the morning to travel 200 kilometres to do a presentation and pour my heart out,” he says.
The most rewarding result of Bill’s presentations is knowing he has inspired real change in workplaces.
“Probably the one that struck me was a business owner from the Gold Coast who had about 35 plumbers and electricians working for him, and he went to great lengths to write to me and send me information on what they’ve done differently in their workplace,” he says.
“And even last week when I was in Melbourne a CEO came up and shook my hand said, ‘You know, you’ve really challenged me and you’ve made me really try and re-evaluate what I think about safety’.”
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