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I made some wrong CHOICES and I’ve been in a wheelchair ever since.” Risk is the neglect of personal pressure on safety. Both management and employees need to make safety a daily priority and encouragement, one that should be stressed beyond production pressures or time constraints. There is a multitude of incidents just waiting to happen that we don’t think could ever happen to us. But it is our decisions that make the difference between an incident and another day at work. James Wood shares his experience about the series of choices that led to his incident and the ways that we can all prevent workplace injuries and fatalities.
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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing of their people. First. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is the Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.
Hi. And welcome to the Safety Guru today. I’m really excited to have with me, James Wood, who’s a world-recognized safety motivational speaker. He has a great story he’s going to share with us. He went to work one day as a typical blue-collar worker, came back home nine months later. So, James, welcome to the show. Really happy to have you with me.
Good morning, Eric from Australia. Nice and early over here.
Indeed, indeed. So out of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, enjoying summer while I’m enjoying winter. So maybe why don’t you start a little bit with your story and how you got started? Maybe talking about when you were going to work that day and some of the elements and we’ll take it from there?
Sure. Okay. Well, Eric, I should go back a little bit further. I’m the oldest of six children. My dad worked in the mining industry, firstly initially in the UK, and then we emigrated to Australia. My grandfather was in mining his whole life and that sort of transitioned to me getting an apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic in the mining industry. I finished my apprenticeship and things were looking pretty good. I was working as a qualified diesel mechanic. Good job, a little bit of ambition. I was hoping one day to make it into maybe a supervisor or a manager’s role.
One day I woke up and went to work. It was a Monday morning, just after a couple of days off. Now the first job for the day, I was given a job to go out and fix a truck. Now, I think the important thing to point out here is it was something that I’d probably done hundreds of times before. So, when the boss gave me the job this day, I didn’t really think too much about it. I thought I can do that. I’ve done that before.
The next thing that he said to me, he said, look, when you finish fixing that truck, take it up to a parking bay. Now I can see where I had to go. The parking Bay was only a short distance away, so I thought I was only going to be in the truck for a couple of minutes. So, I fixed the truck, jumped up into the cabin, ready to move it. Now, just as I got into the truck, I had a look at the time, and I noticed it was five to nine in the morning.
Smoker or morning tea was at 09:00. So straight away, I thought, Beauty, if I can get back to the crib room, the lunchroom by 09:00, I can catch up with my workmates. So, I took off down the road in the truck in a bit of a hurry, pretty keen to get back to the parking Bay, back to the lunchroom. I put my foot down, gone a little bit too quick for the conditions. I lost control of the truck. Wet road. We’d had a bit of rain around that day.
A wet, slippery road. I’m going too fast. I ended up rolling the truck down the side of a Hill three times. They worked out that I rolled the truck three complete times.
I got thrown out and I broke my back, snapped my back, and damaged my spinal cord. And pretty much I’ve been using a wheelchair for the last 30 years.
Wow, this is quite the event.
Yeah, that was the event, but just leading on from there. And I suppose to answer your question, it was probably about five or six years after my accident. I managed to go through hospital and rehab, and I was rebuilding my life even five or six years after the event. I was still in that rebuilding process. But one of my mates rang me. One of my former workmates ring me, and he’d made it up into a supervisor’s role, and he asked me. He said, Look, Woody, he said, we’re having a safety day.
He said I want you to come out and tell people what happened to you. And initially, I refused. I said, there’s no way that I’m going to sit in front of a group of people and talk about my accident. But he kept nagging me. Eric, he’s one of those annoying mates. One day we were having a couple of beers together, and he asked me the question. He said, well if someone had turned up at our workplace and talked about their incident or told their story, is that the sort of thing that you would have listened to?
And something just clicked, and I thought, you know what? I would have liked to have heard it not from my management, not from my safety people, but from someone that I could relate to, and they could relate to me. So, I agreed to go out and have a bit of a yarn at his workplace, and it just snowballed from there. I kept getting phone calls saying, look, we heard you’re out at such and such a place. Can you come out to our workplace?
So that’s the way that I started telling my story. And I’ve been doing it for nearly 25 years now.
So, tell me a little bit about the message that you convey when you speak to audiences. I think one of the things that struck me was really your message around responsibility. And we’ll get to a couple of other themes that you shared, but maybe tell me about some of the key messages that you conveyed.
My story, Eric, is all about choices. When I started my apprenticeship, we were given, obviously training and a bit of guidance by the tradesmen and the managers of where I work. We were given training, job training and safety training. We had systems and procedures in place that were supposed to keep us safe or ways of doing our job that were meant to reduce risk. But I made some wrong choices. I stuffed up the three key points that I try and get across to people are to people.
When I share my story, I didn’t take that little bit of time just to think about the job. I just jumped straight into it. I actually put pressure on myself. I thought that I had to get the truck fixed as quickly as possible.
And I think that’s a fairly common thing with a lot of people. We put this pressure on ourselves that we just have to get the job done, no matter what. The second part of me getting hurt is I took a risk. I was going down that road too quick for the conditions, management and safety. People are always saying drive to the condition. I’m a perfect example of not driving to the conditions. And I think the third part of me getting hurt is I didn’t protect myself. The truck that I was driving that day had seatbelts I didn’t have a seatbelt on.
So that’s the reason I got thrown out of the truck. Yeah. Those three choices can be applied to any role or any task. It doesn’t matter what people do. Just take that little bit of time just to think about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. Don’t take a risk and protect yourself where the appropriate PPE and whatever you can do to protect yourself if something does go wrong.
I think that’s a great point. I think the element you bring up around production pressure is something I hear quite often. And in some organizations, it’s legitimate. The organization is pushing, and they’re creating an environment where you’re more likely to create unsafe conditions because of that pressure. But what you bring up is an interesting point. There wasn’t a pressure from the organization, but you had imposed yourself on yourself a certain degree of pressure. How can organizations how leaders reduce that risk in terms of the messaging to make sure that somebody doesn’t put an undue pressure on themselves?
Yeah. Look, I think it’s got to be that constant reinforcement that you can stop a job, or you can take a little bit of extra time to make sure what you’re doing is safe. A lot of workplaces that I visit. There’s no managers or supervisors saying right, get that done as quickly as possible. I hear the opposite. I hear if you need a little bit of extra time to make the job safer or to put some extra protection or things in place to be able to do the job safer, just do it.
And that’s what I think management has to do. They have to constantly reinforce. Look, there’s no one yelling and screaming at you saying you’ve got to get the job done as quickly as possible, no matter what or you have to take a risk to get that job done.
I think that’s a common theme because in many cases, people put pressure on themselves, and the leaders do have a significant impact or an ability to impact because of pressure that people can put on themselves.
Yeah. Look, I see it a lot, Eric. I see a lot of people do put that it’s a perceived pressure they think to themselves. Well, if I don’t get this job done quickly, I’m going to get in trouble for it. I see a lot more where there’s some process work where they might be part of a bigger job. And if they fall behind in their area, it’s going to impact on the other areas to produce or to keep the job going. And in a lot of cases, you can just say, Look, I’m not comfortable with that.
Let’s just stop until we can put some things in place to make me comfortable. Yeah.
I love that one thing as well that I know when we connected, that struck me is you had a great quote. I’ll let you share it in terms of you really didn’t feel that anything was going to happen to you. Right. So, you’ve heard about other accidents and other people, but you didn’t think it was going to happen to you. And certain things like you said, you didn’t protect yourself with a seatbelt as an example. How does that happen? And how can you shift that? And first, I think you need to share your story on that front because it’s quite powerful.
Yeah. I think it’s just a human nature thing. Nobody thinks that something bad is going to happen to them. It’s not until it happens to you that you think, hang on. This doesn’t happen to me. But the story that I shared with you when we chatted before Eric was, I can remember lying in hospital. And the doctor explained to me that I’d broken my back and damaged my spinal cord. And he said, look, you’re probably going to have to use a wheelchair for the rest of your life.
And I looked straight at the doctor, and I said, Look, I think you must be mistaken. This doesn’t happen to me. I said that to the doctor, and I said, this doesn’t happen to me, right? And I think that we all don’t think that we’re going to get hurt. But look, unfortunately, if you do make some wrong choices, there’s a good chance that you increase that risk and you could get hurt.
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And is there anything that a leader could do to help influence? So obviously you talked about your friend who brought you in to start conveying your story. But is there anything a leader could have done to help improve your chance of being safer on that day?
Yeah. I think you need to keep in mind that I got hurt 30 years ago. So, we’ve come a long way with safety in 30 years. I see it in the time that I’ve been visiting workplaces. I see some of the improvements that we’ve made. I believe that 30 years ago, we almost and especially management teams, almost accepted the fact that some of their workers were going to get hurt and some of their workers were going to get killed.
But we’ve had a complete turnaround over the last 30 years in that we now are at the point where we say, well, you know what? We don’t have to hurt people. We don’t have to kill people. So, a lot of that has come from management, and they’ve had to put extra resources into training and the things that they need to do to make their workplaces a safe place to work. But I think managers still have to maintain some sort of connectivity with their employees. And the reason I say that is the only time that we ever saw a manager, or a supervisor was when something went wrong.
And I think that’s something that management have to do a little bit better. They have to make themselves visible to the shop for guys and girls and for no other reason. Just so the employees can see that management are aware of some of the conditions that they work under, some of the things that they have to do as part of their job. But I guess your question, Eric, my management and again, keeping the time frame in place, they didn’t really lead by example. They were quite comfortable to tell us that we should be doing this, and we should be doing that.
But we would often see them doing something that wasn’t quite what they’re asking us to do. Sure, their credibility just goes right at the door. So, if you are in any sort of management or leadership role, if you’re willing to ask people to do something, you’ve got to be willing to do it yourself. And I think the other thing is we had some systems implemented over the time that I worked in the industry, and one of those systems was a system called Take Five. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of that, Eric.
Yeah, absolutely. The take five system. Now we were all given a little take-five booklet. It was a little pocket-sized notebook, and we were meant to carry it around with us. And before every job or every task, we were supposed to do a take five, I reckon the first probably twelve to 18 months. Our management and our leaders were pretty good. They were saying, look, have you done you take five, make sure you do your take fives now, after about two years, maybe two and a half years, that sort of died down a little bit.
We didn’t get asked as often. Have you done your take fives? And I reckon probably three and a half years after they’d introduce that system. We very rarely got asked if we’d done take five, no incentive or encouragement or reinforcement for us to do them. And I had to take five books in my pocket the day that I got hurt and I didn’t do it. I just jumped right into that job without even thinking about it. Now, the strange thing about that I used to think that a take five was a waste of time.
I thought it’s something to cover management. If something goes wrong, something happened to change that one of my workmates, he brought down some stuff from my locker in the workplace, and one of the things that he brought down with him was a whole pile of my old take five books, and I just grabbed them off him and I threw them in my bedside table in the hospital room. Now, one night I woke up about 03:00 in the morning and I couldn’t sleep. I was in a fair bit of pain, so I just reached over to my bedside table, and I grabbed one of those old take five books and I started flicking through old take fives that I’ve done over the years, and I came with some blank take five.
And I don’t know why I did this, but I decided to do a take five for the job that I got hurt on. Now, had I taken five that day and done one properly, not just gone tick, tick, tick. But if I would have done one properly, I would have identified probably three or four different things that could have prevented me from getting hurt. So, we had the system in place that could have possibly stopped me from getting injured, but I didn’t use it. And if you were to say, well, why didn’t use it?
I would say, well, there was no encouragement or no reinforcement to do it, I guess, for any managers or supervisors out there, if you do introduce a system or a procedure, you have to also be willing to constantly encourage or even reinforce people to use that system.
I think that’s a really important point because I see it so often in organizations that you have a good system that gets implemented and people are looking for the next system to implement, but they haven’t necessarily embedded the tools that they have. Like you said, the good strategy is to embed in the first year, but eventually tapered off and attention went to something else. But some of these things, if they had been continuously reinforced, could continue to drive adoption. So, I think it’s a really good point.
It’s not necessarily through what you’ve got out, but maybe even just look at how do I make sure what I’ve got gets implemented? It gets reinforced and gets really operationalized day in and day out.
And I think the other thing is probably worth mentioning is I was working in the industry when we were starting to transition from bad culture to try and change some of those cultures. So, there was the time that I was in the workforce. There was quite a lot of changes made sure. And there was a lot of opposition to some of those changes, especially from some of the old school guys and girls saying, well, hang on. We’ve been doing this for 30 years. What do we have to change the way we absolutely?
So, let’s transition. You do a lot of speaking to groups you’ve taken on recently a Covet project. Tell me a little bit about your project and a little bit of we’ll get to that after, but a little bit about how somebody could reach out to you if they wanted you to connect with a group and speak about some of your experience and also help shape people’s mindsets around it.
Sure. Well, my little Covet project, I live in Victoria in Australia or Melbourne in Victoria. We have got the unenviable record of having been locked down for more days than any other place in the world. I think it was close to 300 days. We were in total lockdown where we weren’t allowed to leave the house apart from shopping, medical or work essential work. So, during that time, I decided to put together a little book. It’s called Twelve Reasons Not to Get Hurt at Work. And basically, Eric, it’s a lot of the ways that my incident changed my life.
Sure, things that some of the topics are you can’t do some of the things that you used to be able to do. One of the things that I try and explain to people is I don’t think any of us realize just how much we take for granted. And it’s that old saying you don’t realize what you miss until you can’t do it anymore, right? So, things like that I cover the fact that because I use a wheelchair to get around. My difference is obvious, but I think some people, when they see someone that’s a little bit different, they straight away assume that they have to treat me differently.
So, I get people that speak to me slowly so I can understand them. I get people shout at me as though I’m dead. I have a lot of fun with those ones. My book is just a short book just to give people a little bit of an insight into what it’s like to live with an injury. I think, Eric, you think about a lot of workplaces, especially large workplaces. If somebody has an incident or has an injury, that person gets taken to hospital, then they might have to have a bit of time off to recover and recuperate if they can’t come back to the workplace that they were working at previously.
You know, a lot of people they don’t see some of the things that this person is trying to deal with and trying to cope with. So, I guess my job and the job of people like myself who share their stories is to just try and educate people on how an injury changes your life and how it affects a lot of the people around you as well.
Thank you for the good work you’re doing on that side in terms of helping keep people safe and focus on really their personal choices that they can make and for leaders in terms of how they can influence others in terms of how they show up.
Yeah. My sort of motivation to do these things, Eric, is purely to stop even one person from going through some of the things that I’ve had to deal with for the last 30 years, and we’ll probably have to try and deal with for the next 20 or 30 years as well.
Absolutely. So, thank you very much for sharing your story. Anything you’d like to share about CNB Safe and your group?
Yeah. Basically, if anyone does want to get in touch, I have got a website. It’s obviously CNB Safe, so C for Cat N for November B and then the word safe. Com au. Don’t forget that au at the end of it, us Australians are pretty proud of that au.
Absolutely. So. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your story.
Thanks, Eric. I enjoy listening to your podcast and I’m happy to be part of one.
Thank you for listening to the safety guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams and fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru. Eric Michrowski.
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ABOUT THE GUEST
James Wood offers workplaces something different. You see James had the training & he had the rules in place, but he made some wrong choices, choices that meant he would never be able to walk again.
James will share his message of ‘choice’, which he hopes will help other people to avoid the same mistakes he has made. James Wood made the wrong safety decision once and now he has to live with it for the rest of his life.
As James puts it, ‘It was supposed to be a normal day, I got up, I went to work and went home 9 months later’.
At a time in James’ life when he should have been thinking about having the time of his life, he had to learn how to live again…. He had an accident that left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Workplace accidents always seem to happen to other people. We think we are indestructible, we tell ourselves ‘it will never happen to me.’
If James had made the right choices, his accident would never have occurred and his injury could have been prevented. The choices that we make have a wide reaching impact. Families, friends, work colleagues, supervisors and management are all impacted by what we do each and every day.
Everything that he used to be able to do became a new learning experience for him. Since then, James has been determined to live a full life and share his important safety message. The one choice you make could make all the difference for the rest of your life.
James’ safety presentation has a long lasting and significant impact on the choices you make.
James’ new book is out NOW: https://cnbsafe.com.au/12-reasons-not-to-get-hurt-at-work/