Nobody ever expects to go to work and not come home that afternoon, but that is the harsh reality James Wood faced when he was a young 20-something man who thought he was invincible. Emily Murphy speaks one-on-one with James to help share his story.
He completed the job and realised smoko was in five minutes – if he could only get back to site in time, he could sit down and have a laugh with his mates.
Taking off down the road that was still wet from rain that had fallen overnight, Woody put his foot down.
“I can’t remember getting thrown out of the cabin or rolling down the side of the hill, but I did,” Woody told Safe to Work.
“And I broke my back – I snapped my back and damaged my spinal cord.”
Not wearing a seatbelt and driving too fast for the conditions put Woody in hospital for three months and left him unable to walk or feel his legs ever again.
But that is only the start of how Woody’s accident affected his life.
“I had to learn how to live all over again. A lot of the things that I used to be able to do before I got hurt, I just can’t do anymore,” Woody said.
“I get around in a wheelchair. I can’t even stand up for a second. So, I had to pretty much learn to live my life in totally different ways.
“You can’t just sit in a wheelchair and know how to use it. Someone had to show me how to push it, how to turn it, how to lift myself in and out of it. Not to mention in the bath and shower.
“They’re the sorts of things that I’ve got to do different to other people. To how I used to do them.”
Woody’s workplace accident didn’t just affect him either. His friends, parents, brother, four sisters, workmates and girlfriend were all impacted way beyond his realm of understanding.
The six-hour commute from his hometown to the Royal North Shore Hospital become a common trip.
About eight weeks after the accident, Woody’s girlfriend broke up with him. She couldn’t cope with the fact he was going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Reflecting on that, Woody said he admires and respects what she said.
“It’s a bloody hard thing to say and hear. But if we changed our behaviour at work and didn’t get hurt, it could be a complete scenario that could be avoided,” he said.
Rather than letting his injury beat him, Woody made a choice to tell his story and encourage other people to do the right thing and follow the safety protocols.
It’s one thing to do safety training and learn what is safe and unsafe, but it is a completely other thing entirely to see the implications of participating in unsafe behaviour.
Woody’s story shows workers, who are exactly like he was prior to his accident, that they are not invincible, and their actions and choices are crucial in ensuring they go home to their families every day.
Woody started his own company CNB Safe in 2001 after he had been visiting workplaces for a few years already and decided he needed some structure.
“I started doing the talks 25 years ago. Since I started, I’ve had other people that have had workplace injuries approach me and say, ‘we really like what you do with workplaces, how do we do the same thing?’ so, I’ve sort of taken them under my umbrella,” Woody said.
“We’ve put together a team of six of us that have all had a workplace injury or a relative who has, and we go and share our stories at workplaces.
“It’s a useful tool for workplaces to engage one of our speakers, because
it ties in so much of the safety training that they give. You can give them training and give them procedures and rules and systems, but unless you give them the reason for it, you’re wasting your time.
“What we try and do is give the reason. We say ‘look, this is how we got hurt. Use the training and the systems and the procedures that you’ve got, or you’ll you end up like us.’”
The CNB Safe team consists of: Alan Newey – he had his right arm ripped
off by a conveyor belt.
Greg Smith – he pushed his fatigue too far, fell asleep at the wheel, hit a tree and broke his neck.
Rohan Sykes – he got burns to nearly 40 per cent of his body.
Michelle Rath – she got a phone call telling her that Alex, her 23-year-old son, had been killed.
Michael Weston – workplace stress and pressure caused his body to give in, resulting in an acquired brain injury (ABI).
Not only is Woody an international safety speaker, but he has recently released a book called 12 Reasons NOT to get hurt at work which details his experience after his accident.
When going to visit workplaces and share information people often ask him questions, so Woody found the top 12, so that a workplace could maybe use the book as training for a different topic or a different safety theme for each month of the year.
“It’s just another way of sharing information. We all learn in different ways. I’ve always been a big reader, and that’s the way that I absorb information is by reading,” Woody said.
“Some people take a lot out of listening to me in person, face-to-face, but I thought, well, it’s just another avenue sharing some of the information or some of the ways that my accident changed my life.”
While writing the book, Woody detailed that he kept thinking of more and more reasons to not get hurt at work, and there will always be more reasons, but first and foremost is that it will completely uproot your life.
“If only I had thought about how an accident would change my life, I definitely would have put in more effort to make sure I went home every day,” Woody said.
For more information, to buy 12 Reasons NOT to get hurt at work, or to hire Woody or one of the other safety speakers to come and speak at your site, visit cnbsafe.com.au