Tough talk­ing on work­place safety

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Ni­cola Wil­liams

It has been “four and a quar­ter” years since Rhett Brown’s ac­ci­dent.

He pre­cisely counts the time since his life changed af­ter a bro­ken neck left him un­able to move from the chest down.

The for­mer po­lice­man fell from a par­tially built two-storey deck while work­ing as a labourer.

He says the build­ing com­pany failed to pro­vide tem­po­rary handrails as part of safety re­quire­ments.

The two planks he was stand­ing on were of un­even thick­ness and he slipped and fell af­ter los­ing his foot­ing.

“Af­ter the ac­ci­dent OSH in­ves­ti­gated and the boss and build­ing firm were pros­e­cuted for neg­li­gence,” Mr Brown says.

“They were found guilty and or­dered to pay repa­ra­tions but went into vol­un­tary liq­ui­da­tion so never paid.”

Mr Brown says he is left with life-chang­ing con­se­quences while the build­ing com­pany own­ers can live nor­mal lives.

He has started pub­lic speak­ing to help pre­vent oth­ers from end­ing up in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion.

He speaks to cor­po­rate groups and in­dus­tries in a po­ten­tially danger­ous en­vi­ron­ment.

“I have spo­ken about the con­se­quences of ac­ci­dents and what it’s like to go from a fit, healthy, work­ing per­son to one with vast med­i­cal prob­lems that con­trol my life,” he says.

“I have to have care­givers to do ev­ery­thing for me, it’s hu­mil­i­at­ing. I can’t dress my­self, I strug­gle to pick up a glass.”

Mr Brown says com­ing to terms with his dis­abil­ity was “in­com­pre­hen­si­ble”.

“It’s been four and a quar­ter years and I still can’t get my head around it.

“It’s a pro­found dif­fer­ence and it’s in­stan­ta­neous.

“I still dream about run­ning and walk­ing.”

He says the ac­ci­dent cost him his mar­riage and his friends.

“I’m still the same guy, I’m just on a set of wheels.

“The ram­i­fi­ca­tions rip­ple through ev­ery as­pect of life,” Mr Brown says.

“I’m not bit­ter – I’ve got­ten over that, I’m very happy with my life now.”

He now lives in a twobed­room cot­tage with a 24-hour care­giver.

Be­fore that he had a “hor­ri­ble” ex­pe­ri­ence liv­ing in a home for the el­derly be­cause it was the only place he could re­ceive care.

Mr Brown would like to di­ver­sify his talks to suit his au­di­ence and is “more than will­ing” to take up in­vi­ta­tions to speak.

He says when he speaks “you could hear a pin drop”.

And he says the feed­back he’s had is “stun­ningly pos­i­tive”.

“I im­press upon peo­ple the pos­si­bil­ity of in­cur­ring a spinal in­jury from a high fall and the dis­as­trous con­se­quences for them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

“It’s been a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence for me,” he says.

“I was a pos­i­tive self­driven per­son be­fore my ac­ci­dent. The first year and a half threw me off track, but I want to be the per­son I was be­fore.

“It doesn’t mean I can’t be the same per­son, I’m bloody de­ter­mined.”

He hopes he can make oth­ers re­alise “my lot’s not so bad”, and in­spire them to over­come hur­dles of their own.

Mr Brown ad­vises audiences not to put off do­ing some­thing good for them­selves un­til to­mor­row, be­cause he went to work one day and never went home.

Build­ing sites have al­ways had strict guide­lines but some choose not to fol­low them, he says.

“By me talk­ing to peo­ple and point­ing out the re­al­ity of the con­se­quences I hope word will fil­ter through.

“If I can stop one per­son end­ing up like me it’s a good thing,” Mr Brown says.

In the year to June 30, 2008, there were 43 deaths in the construction in­dus­try and five ac­ci­dents re­sult­ing in se­ri­ous in­juries.

The Ac­ci­dent Com­pen­sa­tion Cor­po­ra­tion works closely with the build­ing in­dus­try to re­duce the num­ber and sever­ity of in­juries.

For in­for­ma­tion about ACC work in­jury preven­tion cam­paigns visit the web­site www. acc.co.nz/in­jury-preven­tion/ • Any­one in­ter­ested in con­tact­ing Mr Brown can email Ni­cola Wil­liams at ni­cola.wil­liams@

Photo: BEN CAMP­BELL

Changed for­ever: Rhett Brown is warn­ing oth­ers about the dan­gers on build­ing sites and help­ing peo­ple re­alise their life can be changed in­stantly.

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