This is the third post in our Safety survivors series. By sharing the stories of people who have survived serious injuries, we hope to demonstrate the devastating consequences that can arise from small lapses in safety awareness.
This week we hear from Spencer Beach, who made his living as a service technician for a flooring company in the new home industry. He spent his days driving from site to site fixing trade-damaged floors, or poor workmanship.
In April 2003, Spencer’s wife was four months pregnant with their first child and they had recently bought a new home. Like so many frontline employees, he was highly motivated to keep his job so he could provide for his family. One day he was removing linoleum with a chemical that reactivated the glue and allowed the linoleum to be peeled off.
It was an unpleasant, toxic chemical and even though he had used it in the past, Spencer had reservations about it, but he got on with the job in hand to avoid rocking the boat.
As Spencer worked that day, the room filled with the fumes – and when the furnace started, it caused a massive explosion. The oxygen in the room was quickly depleted, causing the door to seal closed. Spencer was trapped.
Spencer did escape, but what came next was the beginning of three and a half intensive years of surgeries and therapies. The only thing that gave him the will to live through the pain was the birth of his beautiful, healthy daughter.
Spencer’s story is one of a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened. The owner of the company had burned down another new home using the same chemical, ten years earlier, but still insisted on using it. And Spencer accepts his own share of the responsibility for going ahead despite the feeling that something was not right.
How do we avoid workplace incidents like this?
The role of leaders must be in striving for that goal of zero incidents…
The role of workers must be to take responsibility for their own safety…
What those risk-taking workers don’t consider, continued Spencer, is the effect that an injury will have on their family, friends and co-workers. They are not just taking a risk for themselves.
Creating a life dedicated to safety
When Spencer was finally able, he began retraining. He became a National Construction Safety Officer through the Alberta Construction Safety Association; he also joined Toastmasters, and he took the Occupational Health and Safety Certificate program at the University of Alberta.
Now Spencer travels the world speaking about the importance of workplace safety. He has spoken with school children, and with groups in industries from oil and gas to mining and lumber. He has also taken back the life that he nearly lost.
Striving for zero incidents
There are too many stories like Spencer’s in any industry, but our goal, at Enform, is to build awareness and to provide the training, tools and resources necessary for every company to get their incident number to zero.
On this blog, we have already explored many of the factors contributing to workplace injuries, such as a culture of denial and the normalization of warning signs. Learn more about this crucial topic in these posts about safety culture.