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“We’ll never realize the accidents we prevent, but we sure will know the ones we don’t.” In this episode, Alan Newey details the sequence of events that led to a devastating workplace incident in September of 1999. The plant where he had been employed for 15 years had placed production over safety, and the voice in his head knew he hadn’t received the necessary training to do his job safely. Alan highlights the role that complacency and comfortability play in workplace incidents and the need to speak up to work together to send every team member home safely.
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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 Ops and 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 very excited to have with me Alan Newey. He’s a safety motivational speaker with CNBC Safe in Australia. He’s been unfortunately part of a workplace accident, lost his dominant arm in a conveyor accident. So, Alan, welcome to the show. Love to hear your story, really in terms of what happened in that role and some of the core themes around that you talked about when you speak to different organizations.
Yeah. Thanks for having me here. This is really important to me for people to hear the message because I don’t want people to go through what I did, especially my better half. Kathy doesn’t want the families to go through at all. And I’ll get into that. But a little background on it. I’d actually been working for the company for 15 years and I’ve done the role that I’m going to describe 4586 times before my actual accident over 15 years. The accident was September 30, 1999. And I can tell you exactly what time 735. It doesn’t matter what the press says. They said 747, 35. I was there. I should know. But no, I just left the home in the morning. This is a kiss goodbye roll up to my website a little mate that I’ve been working with for 15 years. He started work at the same place about two weeks before I did. And we’re just joking around like normal. He was a little short guy, five foot six. And I make Snow White and Seven Dwarfs jokes about him every single day. I was a heavier set guy, so he’d make set jokes about me.
And we had a great working relationship. And we got down to this place, the plant that I was working, which would load 112 trucks a day on average, 34 times to a truck, eight minutes to a load 100 trucks a day. And he’s only five foot six for a little mate. And I’m six, too. And he wasn’t feeling well. And it was his job this day to drive cranes and operate the conveyors up high. And I was supposed to control room downstairs. Well, he wasn’t feeling well, so we swapped roles and we’ve done that before. We look after each other. I went up and started to adjust the conveyors and make my way up to the crane. And as one of the incubators is always tracked out to the side due to moisture from product or urea. It’s a fertilizer. And we have to dry the belt down and track it back into place. And the training I was showing, and he was showing was to grab this little green bucket with some drying dust inside it, reach inside the moving conveyor, throw the dust on by hand, and then once the track back into place, start the next section goes to the crane.
When I was blowing, this drawing dust belt didn’t come back far enough. So, I threw one extra handful of dust, which normally an extra handful from the normal amount. And I heard it bang. And I thought nothing of it. And I went up and looking up and down the conveyor looking for this noise that was in the machine. And I went to scratch my head, but there was nothing there to scratch my head with. That noise was my arm going around the machine and I felt nothing. No pain, nothing.
Nothing at all. So, you could say I said a few explosives is I climbed down a 30-foot ladder running out to the front. My little workmate with a shock horror in his eyes has come over and jumped onto a stunt to try and stop the bleeding, which he couldn’t because what we didn’t know at the same time, it actually torn the chest on the inside at right angles. The chest was pointing at right angles on the inside. Now this is where my little mate owes me for beers. And I’m getting delayed because of the way it affects people. He owes me a few beers for this because he passed out. But he was hanging off there. He kept his strength on there. So, he’s still hanging on. So, I picked up my good. I’m not carrying that little high in the first place. So, then it all started from there. I played a high grade of tennis. I dumped Australian Open on the lines and all that beforehand. And the police officer who showed up to the accident. This is where it affects different people that people don’t think about. The police officer who showed up to my accident was a man of mine who I played in a tennis tournament three days before.
And he just happened to be the police officer. He was sent to my accident. When he walked in the room, he’s gone into like a shot because he knew who it was. And down the track a little bit, he challenges me for a rematch because I haven’t got a double handed backhand anymore. But he’s not getting it, I can tell you now. And then it all went from there. Five reattachments on my arm to try and save it, which I couldn’t. In the hospital, they told my better half they only had 2 hours to live, and she had to make plans after its reattachment. So, she was trying to get through and with my family. So, I can’t only imagine what she’s going through. They took me back into the surgery and they gave her an. A four piece of paper, would you believe? And she had to sign for this. We’re going to pack Ellen back into surgery. Police sign here. And it was removed all of them permanently. Sign and date here to cover the backsides. Legally, they removed it. One of the doctors made a little clamp about that big about 50 cent coin type thing in Australia.
And it was lifesaving, that little clamp they put inside the chest with the 300 staples of stitches already holding me together. Saved my life. 2 hours later, I was watching television and then everything really started, really started with the rehabs and the things and wife goes through and everybody else. And it’s still going on today, 20 years later, and it hasn’t stopped.
So, tell me a little bit about some of the follow-on effects. You talked about your significant other at the time when you have an injury, the effect is significant on everybody. You talked about the police officer telling me about some of the following effects because it’s your injury and what happens to you. But there’s also a significant effect, everybody that you care, and you love.
Yes. And I think myself, the impact on the others after my incident is actually greater than mine. It’s even greater. You’ll find out who your friends are and who can’t deal with it and people you’ll never see again. My mother-in-law rested us off. I’m still alive, mind you. And she put on the black outfit like I did the Greek. So, I was meaning to a Greek family, and she put on all the Greek outfit, all in black, and she’s doing all the things and everything. My mother went quiet. My father, he worked at the same company for 47 years and retired three years before my accident. The culture was they never spoke about safety. Safety was never mentioned, really on that site and never, ever mentioned on that site. It was always production ahead of safety. So, we all pick our jobs and all that type of thing and the profits up, I guess. So, he was kicking himself. But that’s an even older culture than me. Can understand that because the culture built up over 100 years like that. A father-in-law, he reacted differently where he actually came up to the bedside with his worry teams.
Clicking them in my ear drove me crazy. And he still got that thick European accent. And he’s gone to me, Ellen, you know, die. If you’ll die, this is no good for me. You sign contract. Kathy your problem. She must stay with you. And that actually helped a lot. Believe it or not, they actually helped a lot. Because if you’re saying that’s not good for me, this is my father-in-law, right. But the biggest flow on effect was my little work mate. He was with me that day in the accident. And that’s the saddest one of all. And the one that can really today get me upset. And that’s over 20 years ago. He passed away about eight years after my accident. The stress he put himself under caused medical issues. A cancer formed in his stomach and he’s no longer with us. The doctors say maybe it wasn’t that. I know differently. In my heart, I know differently the stress he put himself under because he never accepted the fact that I got hurt and he didn’t. I was doing his job that day and I couldn’t get into his head because I’m 62, he’s five, six.
I miss being pulled into that machine by two inches, less than two inches. And I would have been pulled into that machine and made miss me. So, if he did that job that day was in that particular spot, he would have reached past that point and he would have been to that machine.
So, this is bad, but it’s the better of the two Eagles, if you can understand that. But he couldn’t accept it. He couldn’t accept that I got hurt and he didn’t. And that was the biggest flowing effect of the whole incident.
So, you worked there for many years. Safety was never talked about. It was about getting the job done, getting it faster, improving profits. You had a voice inside of you. Tell me a little bit about what that was.
When I first started there in September October 1999. Sorry, 80, 415 years before my accident, I was showing that plant where I had my accident. And this little voice inside me said, and when I showed me how to do the drying of the conveyors and all that type of thing, because I had all the front hand load of crane operation licenses, no problem. But the training was five minutes of this is how we do the job. This is how we drive the plant. End of the story. Five minutes. Five minutes is awesome. And if somebody came under that plant, that’s what I’d show you. And I’ll be putting data. Sure, because that’s all I knew. And the voice insider said, you don’t do this. This is dangerous. And they did tell me it was dangerous. And to be careful.
That’s not very helpful.
Right? No, there’s no guarding on his conveyor or anything like that. And it could mean the accident could be prevented for less than $800. But I sent a quarter of a million dollars in reacting to it. That’s the sad part about it. The money was there. But the voice was, you don’t do this job. This is too dangerous. Don’t do it this way. Speak up. But you wanted to keep this job because you got your mortgage, you got your bills, you got everything else. So, you didn’t speak up. And as time went on, the voice got less and less because you became more confident in the area, and it became second nature. So, all of a sudden you stopped listening to that voice and knew yourself, put yourself in danger with your complacency and just pushing forward. You didn’t listen to that voice anymore. You’d become part of the environment and you didn’t see the whole picture.
So that is a really important theme because really we start getting complacent when we start doing it too often you talked about how you did it 4000 sometimes and nothing had gone wrong and present in those 4000 sometimes your voice starts going slower and less and less and you start accepting, what are some of the signs that people should be looking for to say, Am I getting complacent with this and really reflect in terms of how do I relook at the hazard in front of me?
One of the big signs I reckon in that is when I start and I said it to myself many, many times, I’m used to this job, I know what I’m doing, I know what I’m doing, I’m bulletproof, I know what I’m doing. Don’t tell me what to do if somebody actually came past, but nobody ever did that. Anyway, if you stop listening, if you start hearing or you stop hearing that voice, that’s time to take five and get a fresh set of eyes in to look at where you’re working, and you can go do the same for their spot. Okay, swap for that thing, that’s the tower power sign. But the idea is once you become complacent and you hear and you don’t get anybody in and you just keep going, it’s hard, it really is hard. But what I should have done is step back. I did realize that I was getting easier, and the job was getting easier. If you start saying to yourself, I’ve been doing this job a long time, I know what I’m doing and then you start repeating it to other people, that’s the sign, you should be stepping back.
You’re complacent with what you’re doing. That’s the big red flag. If you start paying for people, I know what I’m doing, I’ve done this job a million times. That’s the big red flag. You’re actually putting yourself in danger and heading towards a major incident without knowing it.
I think that’s a really important point. Listen to that voice, look for the signs that I’m getting comfortable with it, too comfortable with it, too comfortable and then kind of pull yourself. I think one of the things I was recently looking at is in aviation, they’ll go so far in many cases to make sure you’re not flying with the same crew, you’re not doing the same route all the time. So, you’re not flying Sydney to La or New York to London. Every time that we switch it up a little bit, so you have less chance of it becomes routine in many cases, not Airlines, but really trying to drive that switching of roles to same as takeoff and landing. There’s an alternating who’s responsible? Is it the captain of the first officer that’s going to be responsible for it?
No, that’s right. That scenario sort of happened after my incident. People started doing different roles and changed around into different places. The culture of where I was. That person like Alan, knows that crane back to front. He knows that conveyor system back to front. We keep him there because we know we don’t have to watch him. He knows the job. And then the person in the maintenance hall that does something. And there was one guy who had an accident that I was working with, and he’s been in the maintenance hold for 37 years doing exactly the same role every day.
Steps in, you get completed.
Right. And he had a major accident at our same site and went home nine months later.
You talked about the other accident. What was interesting is there were no reports. When we first talked, there were no reports, no recordables. I think you said 463 days, is that correct?
That’s correct. We went 463 days of no lost time injuries and no recordables because nobody reported it. Nobody reported them. Okay. After that 460-day bracket, and that was a big red flag in itself. We’re heading towards an incident without going. We had four majors in 18 months. Four majors in 18 months. And I think the average is 860,000 reportable a day. That’s ten every second.
Somebody actually does say something which is not common.
You’re getting over. What is it? 15,000 unrecorded incidences per minute. And they’re the ones leading to the major actions. There’s 5000 /minute that are recorded. Well, they’re doing something about it. They’re recording them. If you’re not recording them, you’re in that 15,000 bracket, which is where I was and my whole work crew was. It led to major accidents. It’s the amount of people getting hurt just because they’re not reporting very simple communication in it. If they reported things, they could do things about it. But if you don’t, you can’t. Nobody knows.
But also, a lot of leaders start reflecting. I’ve had 463 days. We must be doing something right here. Things are safe. You see it as a leading indicator. I fixed the problem, but obviously it wasn’t.
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No, because what it was with where I was working, they had the 463 days, and they had all this. After we passed one year, there’s this big celebration, I can tell you now, they put on drinks in a barbecue type of thing for everybody. And that type of stuff. And it was down to the fact that even when somebody did come to inspect the place, they knew they were coming. So, the place was cleaned down to make it look good or they inspected, and they always pass the test. But nobody ever picked up no guards. And I asked for a guard for that belt, and I was told it was too expensive and the guard would have cost less than $800. And they went a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of guards after the accident, in reaction. And if you could have seen the guard they put onto it, that actually caused my workmates risk than putting them at risk with the guard they put on there. It was so big and so massive you couldn’t move it. The safety system to protect them was on the inside of the guard and they couldn’t reach it.
What solution is that? Because everybody got scared with my accident, I think being the fourth one in the list. And when they got scared, that’s when everybody was running and ducking for cover, that type of thing, they’re getting wrong legal advice. That’s where all the legal people come in and then really make the waters muddy and murky because everybody’s trying to think, what do I do now to cover my backside? And that’s what it got me. They got through it all, but it was years. It wasn’t just done overnight. The plant closed down. Five years later after the 2012, I think it closed down. Why? Because it was unsafe.
Oh, it was shut down for being unsafe.
Yes. Not because it was unstoppable profitable. Not profitable. They were making millions and millions of dollars every week. They had to do all these improvements for safety. And they reckon it was better for them just to move the plans to another C-suite and rebuild the whole structure. So, where safety was, they were told production would keep their jobs. It’s not true safety would have caused their jobs.
But too often people don’t look at that way. When you speak to audiences around your experience and some of your learnings, one of the themes I know you talk about is around regret. Tell me a little bit more about how you impact that theme and the stories there.
The regret I have personally is one thing I can listen to my wife when she drove past that plant one day and she’d never been on site, never looked inside the four walls, and she came home and told me, leave the company, there’s going to be an accident there. She just had this feeling.
You just had this feeling? Yeah. And me being the mail and everything else and headed about it because I actually did love what I was doing. I turned around and said, I’ve been here for almost 15 years. I know what I’m doing. Don’t worry about it. Everything’s fine. Four weeks later or six weeks later, I had the accident.
So, I regretted not listening to her, putting her through all the stuff that she went through, all the house she must have had gone through. And she kept a lot of things to herself during that process to try and protect me. And I did the same thing. And then almost causes a family element breakdown post thing. I walked past thousands of times on that plan, thousands of times. And I saw things and I had closures and all that. And I did the same thing, not reporting them. Same with my little Workman bosses walked past the whole thing. Nobody ever spoke up. And everybody knew was dangerous. Everybody knew it was dangerous. And when the accident happened, the big word that came out of everybody, why didn’t I do something about it? Why didn’t I speak up? I’m going to regret this for the rest of my life.
And now they all live with it. And I see some of them 20 years down the track and run into them because we all live in the same areas. Yeah. And they say the same thing to me. Why didn’t we speak up? We had four people seriously heard at sight because we didn’t do anything about it and we all lost our jobs anyway. So, what was the point? If we spoke up for our workmates, we all have our jobs. We’d all be playing tricks on each other and having the fun that we were having and going home to our families.
Speaking up is not that straightforward. It takes a climate and environment where people create an environment. The leaders create an environment where you’re comfortable speaking up. Everybody, yes, does have that responsibility to speak up when they see something that’s unsafe. But also, I’d say there’s a leadership responsibility to say, am I creating this at all my sites, all my locations? Are people comfortable speaking up? Am I seeing near misses being reported? Am I seeing people talking about concerns and are those being addressed?
They weren’t people as they just walk past. They lived with the regret of not acting up. And they just keep wishing they did act up and speak up about it. Because when I actually got around to the plan after my accident and spoke up, other people started to speak. They started to talk to each other. They started to communicate with each other, realized that they all wanted the same thing and that’s for people to go home and enjoy life. And if they were on that wave plan, even just, hey, Eric, if we could fix that, we’re going to possibly save an incident from happening. And it all moved on from that. Because the thing is, what they all realized too late is we’ll never realize the accidents we prevent. But we are sure as we’ll know the ones we don’t.
Right? Absolutely. Well said. But I think your message as well around focus on the bottom line won’t get you there because the cost of serious injuries are expensive.
And not just the legal costs, not just the insurance costs, but the toll on everybody else that’s involved.
You can’t replace him with me. You can’t replace what your wife, your significant other goes through your family and all that. But to give you an idea, just an idea. The accent was preventable for less than $800. There was an airline in this shed that I work which could have been produced for under $100. It would have prevented the accident. Now that I’m missing the right arm and it makes it blunt, that little Bolt that’s sticking out at the end is $14,000. Okay. This is $0.50 from a hardware store, which stops me from ripping the shirts and T shirts. If I don’t put it on, I’ll rip the shirt with a Bolt. But I’ve been through four leagues so far. This is a robotic limb and it’s controlled by brainwaves, so I can open and close it with my hand and operate to have a drink. I don’t even write a sentence with it, but it doesn’t replace the real thing. It’s just an A, but it’s a quarter of a million dollars. Australia in a survey about 170,000 US. I don’t want it. I would love to throw it out the window, no doubt, but it’s something I have to use because it straightens my spine up and stops future medical issues.
It keeps you in shape because I’ve no longer have the weight there. So, the spine starts to move. So, then you get back pain and it causes other issues down the track.
All these following effects.
Yes. You’re always living with going to the doctors, putting in a request for something else because of the incident. And then you’ve got to jump through all the medical boards and all the hurdles and all that other stuff. One thing that I love to talk just mentioned to you, that was a flowing effect of my wife. She got a letter just in, a little letter sent to her in the mail, and she could have got this day one and it was to look after her because all the people looking after me when I’m in boys looking after me, she just sits there. But she could have got somebody to talk to or counseling or something to help her. She received a letter stating that fact. There’s people there to help her, but she got the letter ten years after the accident, ten years, ten years later.
On this, because if I had a right arm, I swear on the Bible and all those things there. But my doctor got a letter about me, and I was getting interviewed every three months for three years. So, there’s three years of my life lost being interviewed every three months by investigators. And you couldn’t forget the accident if you wanted to. My doctor was getting the same 22 questions but had to answer from a medical perspective. Okay, so this time we got 23 questions. Now, if I was to ask you what the 23rd question was because it upset Kathy so much, she wanted to go down in the head office and go postal with everybody, and I had to laugh it off, what do you reckon the question would have been?
Okay. What was the likelihood of Mr. Newest condition to be proved and the prognosis towards the limb growing back?
Got to be kidding.
I’m not somebody one of their officers actually asked, would the arm go back?
But cutting was not impressive.
I’m sure she wasn’t. So, I think that the message here is it’s more than financial like, as you said. But I think organizations also need to look at it in terms of how do I drive safety? If I drive safety, I’m also driving. Like you said, the plant would have probably still been operating. All these following effects. It looks like a cost benefit analysis, but it’s so.
And also, a good business is a business that’s safe.
And a good business that’s safe is also going to be a productive and a successful business it is because part of the flow and effective they’re closing the plant was 54 of us lose their jobs, permanents 112 part time and casuals lose their jobs. The little shops where you buy your teams next door, we’re gone.
Because we’re gone. The flow on effect from an incident like mine was not affecting just me, my family, workmates, friends, and all that type of thing. But the little people that you’ve built up relationships in the little shops around you for 15 years and you never see them again. It was like a little village if you wanted to say it and it’s all gone.
All because safety wasn’t taken seriously.
Alan, I really appreciate you sharing a story. I think it’s an important message for a lot of organizations. You speak a lot about safety motivated organizations and team members around safety. Somebody would like to share your story, bring your story. How can they get in touch with you? Is it through CNB Safe?
Yeah, cnbsafe.com James Woods runs it and he’s a very good friend of mine. And we were in our apartment. We are both involved in major accidents now. We compare who’s got the worst one. The ball plays in a wheelchair and I go, I can push you in circles. And he goes, well, I can swim straight. You can’t. I can find my shoelaces up. You can’t. So that’s the flow on effect. Tie my shoelaces, one hand, put on your pants. And to everybody I’d say this, go home, drop your pants. I mean that in a nice way. Drop your pants, grab an Apple, and put it in your dominant hand. Then try and put your pants on with your other hand.
And that will give you an idea of straight away. What’s like with one arm?
It’s just a simple test for CNB Safe. I go anywhere and I’ve one of the few people that can tell the CEO of the company and I’ve done it to some major companies. If they don’t pick up their ass and they gain you’re going to jail, and I’ve said it in front of the workers and everything and that’s not it. I’m not here for that. I’m here to make sure he does his job. You do your job, and you all go home safely.
Ultimately, everybody has to come home safe.
That’s right. And everybody’s going to work together. That’s it.
Alan, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really appreciate you sharing a story and have a wonderful rest of your day or morning for you.
Thank you very much.
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