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