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ABOUT THE EPISODE
In this episode, Steven Kirby joins The Safety Guru to share his inspiring journey of resilience, hope, and purpose. Steven was involved in a workplace incident in 2011 that deeply affected him both physically and mentally. In our conversation, Steven shares his extraordinary story and reveals how he has transformed his personal life-changing events into a lifelong mission to inspire others. His message will undoubtedly prompt you to reflect on how to motivate individuals and organizations toward safer practices. Tune in to hear Steven’s powerful story about safety bonuses leading to life-changing events.
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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 well-being 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’s success story begins now.
Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Steven Kirby. Steven is a life coach out of the UK. He’s a keynote safety speaker. His background has been in construction. He’s got an incredibly powerful story to share with us today. Steven, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Eric. How are you doing?
Very well. Let’s get started with your story because your story is mind boggling when you first told me about it.
Yeah, right. My background is construction and demolition. I’ve been a life coach for the last four years and that’s due to the story that I’m going to come back and tell you. I started off as a site laborer, site operator in demolition, and I went my way over a few years to get my 360-excavator card and became a plant operator. I had a lot of experience on different sites. I moved from demolition to construction. I did a little bit in utilities. And then I was on a job 12 years ago. So, I’d been in the industry for 12 years. I was on a job 12 years ago and we’d just had two weeks off for Christmas and we’d gone back. And before the Christmas break, we had installed 60 meters of 600 mil pipe for a fire hydrant system. So, if you can imagine 60 meters, wasn’t it? Just in a straight line. And we were told that section, before I could dig the next section out, that section needs hydrostatic pressure testing. Now, I’d never seen or done a hydrant test before, never witnessed it, didn’t really know nothing about it. Four of the other guys, there was six of us in the team, they had an EVA or one of them knew of it, but he’d never done it. But there was one guy working with us who he had a street works card and apparently that street works card gave him the competency to be able to do a hard test site pressure test. And he said that he’d done it before on different sites. So, on this day, 11th of January 2011, so 12 years ago, we went through all the risk assessments, method statements, permits to work, and everything sounded and seemed really straight forward. Literally, fill the pipe with water until there’s water coming out the valve on the stagger end. Close the valve up and then put a compressor on and pressurize that pipe, get it to 28 bars of pressure. Once it’s at 28 bars of pressure, then job done. So, it sounded really simple. We get onto site, after we’d sand all the paperwork, we get onto site, its thick snow, it’s freezing cold, and this trench was maybe about 6 foot deep. It’s not a massive deep trench, but deep enough. Me being a typical digger driver, it was freezing cold, so I didn’t really have much to do. I got into my machine, turned the engine on, turned the heaters on and sat there.
And that was my intention for the rest of the day until these lads had got this tested and I could start digging the next section out. I didn’t really have much to do. So, the guys did what was told. They filled the pipe with water, put the compressor on, started pressurizing. We were told to get it to 28 bars of pressure. And it took about an hour to get to three bars of pressure. And at that point on the test end, it started leaking on the flange just down the boat. So, the guy who had the experience said, Right, stop the compressor, get in there and tighten that nut and bolts. Two members of the team was on the 18, Anthony and Jordan, two young lads. And they were keen to crack on and do some work. They were eager to do some work. So straight away, both of them climbed into the trench down the ladder. You’ve got one of them, if you can imagine, the spigger end is 600 millimeters round and about a meter wide. It weighed 460 kilograms. It’s a big lump of steel. Anthony sat on the pipe facing that way while Jordan stood in front of the of it so they could both get leveraged to tighten up the nut and the bolt.
They tighten it up, they get out the trench, turn the compressor back on, and now, we’re so low there, it’s about five and a half bars, five bar, starts leaking again, but in a different area. So, they do the same thing. We started at just after eight o’clock in the morning. By lunchtime, it was at about 10 bars of pressure, and it started leaking. So, at that point, I get out my machine. Something didn’t feel right. So, I opened my machine door and I said, Guys, before you go any further, someone go back to the office and speak to the manager, the supervisor, explain what’s happening, see what you see. So, one of the guys gets in the van, it’s a five-minute drive back through the site to the office. He explains the wrapped 10 bar. We’ve already had a couple of leaks. And he went on to his computer and he went on to Saint Gabain’s website because they manufactured the pipeline. And they went on Saint Gabain’s website, and he just said, No, it’s state for you. It can be tested up to 38 bar. We’re only going to go up to 28 bars.
Carry on doing what you’re doing. It’s fine. So, he came back, the James came back. He said, I said, carry on doing what we’re doing. At that point, the guy’s getting tightened up. It then gets to just after three, two minutes past three, I remember looking at my watch, it was two minutes past three in the afternoon, and we finish work normally at half past… Pack up at four o’clock. Now I’m thinking to myself, it’s taken all day to get to 18 bar of pressure and it’s leaking. I’ve only got less than an hour and we’ve still got another 10 bar to go. And I thought, there’s no way I’m working late. I’m working late tonight. I want to be away. So, in my mind, I believe that all 24 nuts and bolts on that planned phase wanted tightening up. The guys obviously weren’t doing it tight enough. And at the time, I was about 16 stone. I was body building. I was a big lead. So, I jumped out of the machine, and I said to the guy, look, give me the harness because you have to wear harness to enter the training. So, I said, give me the harness, I’m going to go in there and I’m going to tighten up all 24 nuts and bolts.
They started laughing at me and saying, go on then. They used to call me fatty. So, I was like, go on fatty, you go and do it. So, I climbed into the ladder, and I forgot to take the spanners with me. I get into the trench, and I’m stood directly in front of the pipeline. The trench is only not much more than a meter anyhow. The pipe is 600 mil.
And as I reached up for the spanners of one of the other guys, of one of my colleagues, I don’t remember nothing in that moment other than I reached for the spanners and then next minute I’m underwater, I’m trapped, I don’t know where I am, I don’t know which way is up, I can’t get out. I truly believed that I was in the local river. I didn’t know I was at work. I believed I was in the Humber. The only way I can describe it is like being in a washing machine. And basically, what happened is as I reached up, the pipe had failed, the snigger end had blown off. My eight and dig around was not there to stop it, but it was there in the trench. And the end of the pipe had hit my digger arm and moved that to the end of the trench, a couple of meters. So, the impact was huge. And I was literally as that 60 meters of water had come out the pipe, it was washing around at the end of the trench where I was. And I just couldn’t get up and I was trapped there.
I didn’t know I was at work. I didn’t know where I was. And I just remember my two boys was four and eight years of age at the time, Harry and Joe. And I remember thinking to myself, I can’t die. Please, please, please. I can’t die. And when the sea of life flushes before you, I was trapped under there now, what I know now for about 40 seconds. And in those 40 seconds, I was screaming for my mom, I was screaming for my kids, my partner at the time. I was praying to a God that I didn’t even believe in. I’m not a religious person. I wasn’t a religious person. And I was praying and saying, please, please, I’m 32. My kids, I can’t leave my kids. I just can’t leave. And then all of a sudden, everything seemed to stop. And I rose out the water and as I rode out the water, it turns out that Jordan, one of the young lads, the 18-year-old, had jumped in, seen me, grabbed what was left of my harness and pulled me up. And as he pulled me up out of the water, people had heard the blast from other jobs and other ideas.
So, all these people had run across and run over. And I just remember all of them looking at me and telling me to breathe, like screaming at me and saying.
My care, be brave. They’re like, Care, be brave. I remember stood there thinking, I want to but I can’t. Will somebody please help me? So, as I’m stood there, what the guys have said now is my face was gray, my lips were blue. I was in and out of consciousness. As young Jordan threw me out of trench, the water was released and I was able to get my breath, luckily. I just remember laying there not knowing what had happened. It was just even looking back now; it was crazy that I can’t put into words how big the blast was and what the lads had said. And people knowing what I know now, people don’t survive that incident. And the fact I got dragged out there and I still had my legs because if I’d have been directly in front of it, it would have cut me in two.
But I walked away from that physically with nine stitches in the back of my head. My overalls had been, and my harness had been blown clean off. And as that was blown off, my arms must have gone and hyper extended. So, I’d overstretch my tendons and injured my elbows. And my boots were found 20 feet away, both boots were blown clean off my feet. My feet were hyper extended as well. So, my feet, even today, I still have trouble with my feet. And I had pipe bedding like shrapnel stuck in my face, my neck, my head. But physically, I know how lucky I am. It was to be able to sit here now and talk about it, it’s crazy that I am still alive.
But, then for me, it was… And why I share the story, obviously there’s lessons to be learned from that, but it was my mental health. I never believed in… 12 years ago, you didn’t talk about mental health, you talked about depression. Somebody was depressed, and that was it. If somebody told me before the accident, they were depressed. I was the guy saying, it’s an excuse to stay off work. It’s all in your head. You can physically do it, crack on and get you on your work. The very first night after that incident, I started having nightmares. As soon as I went to sleep, I was trapped under water. I was screaming for my kids. And then as the days went on, it was the same. As soon as I drifted off, whether it was daytime or nighttime, I was trapped there. Even the smell of water, if I turn the kitchen tap on, the smell of water, I’d start shaking and I’d be trapped under there again. And knowing what I know now, that’s PTSD, but I didn’t know I had PTSD at the time. So physically, I was battered and bruised, you can imagine 18 bars of pressure, air trapped in the…
If it was just water, it’d have been fine. But there was air trapped in the pipe, so we’d created a cannon. So, we had literally created a bomb without knowing. So, the amount of air that came out and literally battered me, I struggled physically for about six months. But my mental health deteriorated from that first night. My way of dealing with it was I’m going to have a couple of beers just to take the edge off. I thought if I have a couple of cans of beer, take the edge off, I’ll get some sleep. By the end of, after about five days, I was drinking anything I could get my hands on, whether that’d be cheap cider, vodka, anything. Katie wouldn’t actually go to the shop and buy me it. I physically couldn’t go to the shop because I couldn’t move. Me and Katie started arguing quite a lot because I was drinking too much. I used emotional blackmail with my mom and my sister and my dad because I’d be saying, Will you bring me some alcohol? I need a drink. And Katie would get me it and say, no, you’re not having it.
And I remember saying, Look, if you don’t get me it, don’t come and see the kids because you’re not seeing them. You’re not seeing your grandkids. And I was nasty. It was horrible. But that went on for about 12 weeks of me self-medicating. And then it got to a point where I was angry all the time. I was agitated. The kids didn’t want to play. Harry didn’t want to come and sit with his dad. And I physically pushed him away and said, go away, go to your mum. Then I’d know that I’d done that. And I’d found myself sat in the bathroom crying my eyes out. And then I’d sit there for 10 minutes, splash my face, walk out, and Katie or my mom or anyone would say, Are you all right? And I’d be like, Yeah, I’m good. I’m all right. I’m dealing with it. But I wasn’t all right. You were hungry. Yeah, I was broken inside. And the more I drank and the more I fell into that spiral of depression looking back now.
I had a voice in my head. Now, we all have a voice in our head, but the more his voice in my head was telling me that I was supposed to die that day. That was my day to die, and I cheated death. It’s a bit like the film Final Destination, you cheat death and then it comes for you. And in my mind, that’s what happened. I cheated death and death is coming for me. So, I was in the physio, and I had doctor’s appointments because of my injuries. And I wouldn’t leave the house because I don’t leave the house because I thought if I leave the house, then it’s going to happen. Then it got darkling in that and I started to think, well, why am I waiting for death to come to me? Why don’t I just do it myself? These would be better off without me. I was supposed to die. That was my day now. I’ve cheated it. And I’d sit there thinking of words of ending it where my family wouldn’t find me. But the only way I could think of that was jumping off a bridge into water, which after that incident, I was petrified of water.
I didn’t want to do any other way because I didn’t want them to find me. I was in a really, really dark place. And then Katie said to me, we had a big argument. And she said, look, you need to get yourself sorted out. She said, you’re drinking too much, you’re angry, you’re sad, your emotions are everywhere. She said, you need to speak to a doctor. I started, she said, if you don’t speak to a doctor, if you’re not going to get help, then pack a bag and leave because we can’t carry on like this. And at that point, I started packing a bag to leave and I thought, I’ll just go. But as I was packing my bag, I had a full-on flashback again of being trapped under water, praying to a God, please, please, please, I can’t leave my kids. And here I am leaving. And I literally had a… In that moment, I had a full-on mental breakdown. I had a panic attack, couldn’t breathe, completely sobbing. Katie rang the doctor. Doctor came out to me, and he said, Steven, you need to see a mental health specialist, basically a therapist or counselor.
He said, but I can tell you now you’re suffering with PTSD, anxiety, depression. And they got me an appointment the next day to go and see a therapist. That therapist was… Well, the first therapist couldn’t help me. I explained what had happened in the accident and she said, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. I’m not qualified enough. She said, Leave it with us. I’ll get back in touch. We’ll get you another appointment. And again, the way my mindset was at that time, I walked away from there thinking, nobody can help me. I’m not supposed to be here. I went home that night, drank a full bottle of vodka, hoping I wouldn’t wake up. But I did. And that same day, another therapist rang me up, said, Can I go and see her? And she basically taught me fight, flight and freeze, and made me understand that voice in my head is my voice. It’s just then thoughts are coming from me. I just got to change it. I had three months of therapy twice a week, and that’s what led me on the path to what I’m doing now. When my last session was over, she said, Right, Steve, you’ve got two options.
You can either go carry on drinking and doing what you’re doing and never understand what you’ve gone through or why you’ve gone through it. Or you can go and start to learn about the mind, learn about human behavior, and start to understand exactly who you are and why you think in the way you think. My first intention was to go to pub and get drunk. That was all I was thinking. I was going to go and get drunk. But something stopped me, and I thought about what she said. I went home and I downloaded a book called Free Magic Words. And as soon as I started reading it, I got into it. And that book then led me to read hundreds of others, like the power of the subconscious mind, all sorts of mindfulness stuff, which if you would have asked me to read it before then, I’d have said, oh, shut up. It’s a lot of rubbish. Meditation doesn’t work. It’s all… You can’t do it. But the more I read, the more I opened my mind, the more I understood exactly who I was and where I was at and why I was thinking and feeling the way I was feeling.
And that took me on for now. The lessons I’ve learned, the courses I’ve been doing, it’s because of that what’s created SK Life Coach UK. So, I wouldn’t change any of it in a way. Maybe the way I train my family and my mom, but the actual accident happening, I believe everything happens for a reason. The people I now have in my coaching and in the speaking, maybe I was supposed to go through what I went through and survive it in order to pass on that message. And then four years ago, when I decided to sell SK Life Coach 2K, Steve Care, the Life Coach 2K, I got in touch with a client, and I’d never really looked at the accident up until that point. Even when I was going to start sharing my story, it was literally what I’ve just said, but in a little bit more detail and obviously the pictures to back it up and give people an understanding.
The more I investigated it and the lessons that I actually learned from it, like we had no training, there was no communication. That manager should have come out of his office, not just looked on his computer. He should have come out and taught and had a look himself. What had happened, the two weeks we were off for the Christmas break, the full area had flooded because it was quite a low area and there was a lot of rain, lots of snow. The 60 meters of pipe that we installed, as we were told, perfectly flat, had flooded and the pipe work had risen where there were joints. So, it was in four-meter sections and at each joint it had risen. So, when we filled it with water to do the pressure test, there was pockets of air in there because the pipe wasn’t level.
And that literally would create a cannon. If we’d have had training, if we’d have known, if we’d have had to understand it, we’d have known that that pipe always had to low level. It couldn’t have peaks because there’s chance of air in there. And you can’t compress the air like you would the water to do the test because it creates too much pressure. If that manager had come out of his office, he’d have seen that, stopped the job, stopped us doing what we were doing, told us to strip it all down, put it right, and the accident would have never happened. If we’d have had the training in the first place, we wouldn’t e had a look for that, and it wouldn’t have happened.
It turns out the spigger end as well, what slotted into the pipe work, it was a compression fitting and that slotted into the pipe and then it’s tightened up at the collar and it has to be tightened to a certain talk in order to keep it in place. The guy who put that together didn’t know that and he just got a normal wrench, tightened it up as tight as he could get it, thinking he was doing the right thing. But it actually weakened the bolts and the nuts and the bead world. So, it would create a loose cannon between us without even realizing all because of a lack of training. So that’s all the lessons that’s learned. And that’s what I get across the company’s, especially over here when I’m talking in person. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re working in; an accident can happen anywhere to any one of us. And if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing or you become complacent in some of that you do regular, that’s when it gets us. That’s when it happens. But then when I’ve gone to the client and explained all this as well and said I wanted to use all this in the presentation, not going to name their names, but I want to start lessons learned along from a safety perspective and the mental health now knowing what I know about mental health, I said, I believe there’s a need for it.
And they tried stopping me and said, no, Steve, we don’t want you to do it. Our bosses don’t want you to do it. I said, well, you can’t stop me doing it. It’s a life story. It’s something that’s happened to me. I said, I’ll get legal advice, but as long as I don’t mention you, you can’t stop me. And then he said, I’ll leave it with me. I’ll get back in touch with you and I’ll let you know what’s said. So, I said, Yeah. And then about three weeks passed and I still have not heard from the client. I’d work from that site for a good 12 years in my career. I tried calling them, I sent them emails, got nothing back. So, then someone said to me, if I write to the HSE, the health and safety department, if I write to them, I can ask for the investigation report through Freedom of Information.
Sure. What happened?
Yeah, exactly. And then I can use points of that in my PowerPoint when I’m sharing the story. So, I thought, Right, great idea. So, I wrote to the HCC. I got an email back and it said, sorry, Steve, we’ve got no record of you on our Neonatal systems. We don’t know who you are. We’ve got no record of an incident. Unreal. Yeah. So, I thought, Well, that’s really strange. So, I emailed the client and I said, I’ve been trying to get hold of him for three weeks. And I said, why don’t the HSE know anything about the accident? And he rang me up instantly. He said, you’ve spoken to the HSE. I said, I have. I said, I just want some information to use. I said, but they don’t know nothing about it. He said, oh, can you come to site, and we’ll explain how we report it and why? I said, yeah, yeah, that’s fine. So, they invited me to the site, and I was expecting to see a full investigation report, a folder, a laptop summit. And there was an A4 piece of paper on the table. And on this A4 piece of paper, there’s a little box in the top and it said in this box, Operatives suffered minor injuries during hydrostatic pressure test failure. And it was reported, he said, as a dangerous occurrence rather than a report.
Right, serious. Right.
So, I said, Right, so if that was just a dangerous occurrence, I said, If I was still in my machine and the lab was all around the trench and that pipe failed and we all went, Whoa.
That’s a different story.
That’s a dangerous occurrence. I said, I was stood in front of the pipe work. I was literally blown up in a way. I had stone stuck in my face and my head like shrapnel. I suffered injuries. I needed stitches. I had physio for six months in my feet and in my arms. I was able to have cortisone injections in my elbows just to be able to move my arms. I said, but you’re telling me that was only a dangerous occurrence. That’s minor injuries. They said, Yeah, because you didn’t break any bones or lose any limbs, it was minor injuries. I said, and on top of that, I had to go and have therapy and see counselors for over six months in order to get my head straight because I was suicidal because of that.
Happening. what had happened?
That happened, what had happened. He said, Yeah, I know. I said, But I said, and you’re telling me it was just minor injuries. It was just a dangerous occurrence. And he couldn’t look at me in the face. He just passed me this piece of paper and I walked away. I got back in touch with the HSE and give them the number off the top of this form, what he’d given me, this dangerous occurrence. And she said, Steve, it hasn’t even been reported as a dangerous occurrence because we’d still have it on our system. She said, so that’s just something that they’ve generated in house to show clients, principal contractors or whatever that they’ve got a report in. The paperwork. It’s a bit of trickle it. But she said it was never actually reported. She said, we’ve got nothing at all on our system. But because it was over seven years ago, the HFC physically couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t look into it.
Couldn’t do anything. Wow.
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Why I’m passionate about this side of the story as well is I’ve done quite a lot of work for scale, which is a big company in the UK and in America and across Europe. They had a fatality on one of their sites with one of the contractors three months after my accident. A guy died at a pipe, a pressure tested to build that free bar of pressure, three and a half, four bar of pressure, and he died instantly. Now, how I see it, if my incident had had been reported in the right way, then the HSE had to put out some briefing, newsletters, some report, some regulation stating what had happened and what not and what to do on their side. And that could have prevented that fatality.
It could have prevented another similar accident happening had it have been reported properly. But because it wasn’t reported, you can’t learn from it if it’s not reported. But I was looking back now, those guys in that office, who if they’d have had a lost time incident, wouldn’t have got their end fee a bonus. And basically, when you’re rewarding companies for having no incident, you’re always going to get cover up. So going back to my accident again, they had their own on-site ambulance. And when the accident happened, I thought 15 minutes they came to, I was strip naked, I was given white coats. They got me in the back of the ambulance. They put a bandage on the back of my head to stop the bleeding. My face was battered, I had a small cut here. They covered that up. They gave me a paper as a suit because they had nothing else in the wrong side of the ambulance. So, they just put me in a paper suit with white coats to keep warm. And then they took me in blue flashing lights. So, I thought I was going directly to the hospital. The hospital?
They took me in blue flashing lights and then all of a sudden after a few minutes, the stops, the doors opened, and I was in the car park. And basically, they got me out of their on-site ambulance, put me in a colleague’s car and told him to take me to the nearest medical facility, which was a 10 minute drive away, to go and get stitches in my head. We went there, we get to the local medical hospital, small little place on a house in the state. And the guy in reception said, oh, what are you here for? So, my colleague said, Oh, you need stitches. Didn’t really look at me. I was sat in there for half an hour in and out of consciousness before anyone came through. My goodness. And then the nurse came through, she took one look at me, and she said, What are you doing here? She said, what’s happened? I said, there’s a company not rung up. I said, I’ve been involved in an accident. Or James had to tell her. She said, no, nobody’s letting us know that you’re coming. Then she said, I can’t help you, you need to be at A&E, you need to be at the emergency department.
So, she was going to get me an ambulance. But James said, By the time an ambulance comes here, I could have gotten there in my car. She said, I’ve got him here, I’ll get him to the rest of the way. When we get back in his car, the shift site manager rang James and said, what’s happening? James turned around and said, we’ve been to the medical building. They can’t do nothing for him. He’s got to go to the A&E. The shift site manager was on the phone and then his words was, I think he swore, he said something along the lines of F&L. And then he said, Right, make sure you’re both on site tomorrow. And then he put the phone down. Then James got me to the hospital, and I got stitched up and got all the stone out and I had lots of X rays and whatnot. And then because I’d been unconscious, the hospital wanted to keep me in, but all I wanted to do was get home to my kids. So, I was like, I’m not staying. While I was trying to get me a bed, I was like, I’m not staying, I’m going home.
I got home about after midnight that night. The accident happened just after three. I didn’t get to hospital until half past six. So, it was like three hours nearly before I even got medically seen to. And then the next morning, I’d sign myself out of hospital, didn’t sleep because I was having nightmares. I was having flashbacks. Every time I nodded off, I was reliving it. Eight o’clock the next morning, there was a knock at the door, and it was a colleague from site had been sent to pick me up, take me back to site to give a statement. So, I couldn’t move. My arms were stuck in a T rex position. I had to say that the thing I did for extended, come back and then it just… I couldn’t move. I was bruised everywhere. I was battered. I said, I can’t go to work like this. He said, I’ve been told you’ve got to come in to give a statement. So, he helped me into the van. Good to say, I went straight to the principal contractor, to the MD and said, Can I give my now so I can go home? He said, No, Steve.
He said, I need to speak to the other five guys first, then I’ll speak to you. It’ll be about half past one this afternoon. So, I was like, well, what am I supposed to do? He said, just go and sit in the office. We’ll keep your tops up with coffee. Don’t worry, we’re not going to send you out to work. You’ll be all right. So, I am sat there and one of my supervisors walked by and he said, what are you doing here? I said, they’ve told me I’ve got to come in to give a statement. He said, Yeah, I bet they have. He said, they haven’t brought you in to give a statement. They brought you in because they don’t want a lost time incident. Because now.
You’ve checked in.
Now I’ve checked in. So, he said, Get in my van. I couldn’t walk. I could triple, but I couldn’t walk. He helped me into his van, and he took me home. The next day, the principal contractor and the client came out with a witness to my house to take a statement from home. Looking back now, then they sent an occupational nurse to my house as well the day after that. And her words to me was, they want me to say that you’re going to be fit to work on Monday. This is on the Thursday. She said, they want me to say that you’re going to be fit for work on Monday. She said, But I can tell you now, you’re not going to be fit to work on Monday. work at work for months for a long, long time. And then she went away, and she said, Look, just heal, just get better. Looking back now, if they’d have got me an ambulance, if they’d have rang an ambulance through, their on-site ambulance wasn’t MOT for the public roads. So, they couldn’t have took me out in their on-site ambulance. That was their site emergency only.
So, they took me in their emergency ambulance with flashing lights to the car park. But if they’d have got me an ambulance, the ambulance had even formed the police because it’s a white horse accident. And then it’s the police’s duty to inform the HSE.
The HSE involved, obviously, massive investigation into that. And people would have been getting in a lot of trouble because we should have been put in that position. Getting me on site the next morning, they had 2.3-million-man hours about a lost time incident. If I had gone into site that next day, there’d have been many guys at the top who wouldn’t have got their end of the year bonus. And I’ve been told that by a manager who’d since left. And they said they didn’t report it because they didn’t want a lost time incident on their end. No company wants an LTI. So, looking back, it was just one massive cover up. But if it hadn’t been covered up, like I said, other companies might not have had fatalities that same year because of the lessons learned from that near fatality. So, there’s many, many lessons to be learned from it. And it’s definitely a story, if you like.
It’s incredible because I’ve heard of stories like this in other countries. Never heard of it in the UK. But essentially to me, the main takeaway is that’s the risk that happens when you start putting financial incentives. As it starts warping what’s the right thing I should be doing as opposed to actively caring for you. It’s how do I make sure that this doesn’t seem as bad. Definitely. The impact in terms of reporting significant is a value in all of this for the organization, but for others too.
Yeah, exactly. Well, the principal contractor I was working for at the time of the accident ended up within months losing their contract. So, they lost the contract and another T1 company was brought in. Whether they’ll admit it was because of that incident, which they probably never would have, right? Because it was all covered up and kept in house. But yeah, that company lost the contract, and everyone said basically even the people that work for the client, it was because of that accident. It was because of that incident. So that one accident changed a lot of lives. When they say the ripple effect from an incident, whether it’s a fatality or whether it’s not, it still has massive, massive effects throughout any business. But again, this was 12 years ago. You’d think lessons learned and move on. My uncle still works on the same site. And back end of last year, he’s stood near his van and there’s a guy in a Mew, an elevated working platform, driving towards him with a sun in his face. And this guy doesn’t see him, he calls, stood near the van. And literally, the front right wheel drove into the back of him.
The wheel trapped all the inside his legs and he was trapped against the van. He was looking not to… He was lucky enough to told by doctor it was millimeters away from breaking both legs. And the same thing happened to him. Now, there’s a different contract on there now to when I was there, but it’s the same client, same place. And he was taken to a nearest medical center to get checked out. And then someone sent him the next morning to pick him up to get him back onto site and put him on light duty for three weeks. Now, that accident was never reported. I told him he should report it himself. If he ever has trouble with his legs and he needs to jump, there’s no record of anything. And he was like, oh, no, it’s not worth me losing my job. I was like, Yeah, well, that’s why I went in. I was worried about my job. At that time, I was living, like a lot of contractors, week to week on my wage, didn’t have savings. You are concerned for your job and that’s why when they’re telling you to do certain things like come in the next day, it’s like, Oh, yeah, I will.
No matter how you’re feeling, you don’t want to lose your job. But at the same time, it’s not worth it. If something goes wrong, report it. If you’re not trained to do a job, don’t do it. Your life isn’t worth your job. There’s plenty of other jobs out there with companies that treat you right. Again, that’s why I get that message across. If you’re unsure, stop and ask. Don’t just struggle alone. Whether it’s mentally or whether it is your job, never, never just struggle along because what you’ve got to do is ask, reach out for help and there’s always somebody to listen to you. I think.
As well, as we talked about for leaders, it’s also reflecting in terms of what’s the impact that some of these metrics, these incentives are driving. How do I test to make sure that the companies I work with have the right culture where they’re not doing things like what you described that they are encouraging reporting, they’re trying to learn, they’re trying to drive the right insights, but also that you’ve got the right pieces around communication training leaders that show up the right way. Like you said, you should have come to look at the work as opposed to just look at a website. Yeah, it was too busy, so I just looked at what you stated on their website as to putting this pipe work together and testing it. He’s like, Yeah, it can go up to 38 bytes. Fine. Every talk I do now, whoever I’m speaking for, if I’m speaking to supervisors and leaders, I’ll say, Look, don’t be that guy. If one of your guys comes up to you and he’s unsure of something, or she’s unsure of something. Yeah.
Stop what you’re doing and go out there and have a look because you’ll see it from your own perspective then. And that could save a life. It could save a serious injury. It can save not just them, but it saves the company millions of pounds as well if it goes wrong. Get out there and check for the welfare of their employees. Don’t just be that guy who says, Yeah, carry on, it’ll be all right. Or go and Google it. If you’re in Google it. That isn’t the way to be. It’s about safety culture within the company, within the business. And if you’ve got the managers, the supervisors on board with that mindset, that culture, that will spread right throughout any company, any business. And it’s talking to people in the right way. It’s the employers trusting that. They can come and speak to you. They can stop a job and not get in trouble for stopping the job because of time, contracts, all the rest of it. We know there’s deliveries on sites daily. If you’ve got so many hundred tons of stone getting delivered, but you stop a job because someone’s in trouble, everything falls behind.
But again, you deal with that as and when your life or somebody’s life always comes first when it comes to safety. And a lot of companies I’ve worked with over the years, over the 20 years, and a lot of companies that I even now speak to, some of them will say to me, safety is our number one priority. And I’ll laugh and say, no, it’s not. Safety is never going to be a number one priority because it costs so much. You need to be earning money in order to run a business, to have a successful business. You need to be earning profit. You need to be meeting contracts. You need to be meeting time, deadline. Safety could be on par with that, which it should be. Safety should be on par with whatever you’re doing. That culture should be level across. No shortcuts whatsoever. If you need PPE, if you need safety equipment, if you need guards, if you need barriers, it’s all there. Everybody on site should know all the regulations. They should know all the procedures. As long as all that’s in place, it’s on par. But safety will never be number one because a lot of companies just go bust.
They just go under. So, you’ve got to have that culture within the company. And I know of a lot of companies who… Even getting me in can be just a tick box to say they’ve got someone in to speak, but then I’ll speak to the guys afterwards and they say nothing’s changed. They’re like, we’re still doing this, we’re still having to do that. And I now get that message across that when I speak to companies, I speak to the managing directors, and I say why I’m doing this and what I’m passionate about. And the changes they need to be implementing in order to have that safety culture right throughout the site, it’s got to come from the top in order for the guy’s lower down to follow them procedures. But yeah, it’ll never be number one priority because companies can’t follow that, but it should be on par. Or number.
One value. It’s how we do the work. It’s definitely number one value.
It’s definitely number one value. And again, that comes to making sure the employees have got everything that they need. And having the confidence to be able to say, I’m struggling with this. Or if there’s a lot of pressure on them and there’s a lot of stress and they’re going through a lot of stress and they’re taking that on with them on a night and they’re having to drink self-medicate to calm down a little bit. They should be able to explain that the rubber stress and some of that pressure taking off them. But it doesn’t work that way. Somebody tells somebody that the rubber stress and they’re not managing, and they may be drinking too much, then they’re told, Right, we’ll get somebody else. And you’re told either do it or you lose your job, basically. And that’s the situation that people should find themselves in. Each company should be able to help their employees if they are stressed, help them with the dealing with that stress and take that stress off them a little bit. Not risk, not threaten the jobs. It should be working with them and helping the staff. And again, it’s that mindset throughout the business.
If everyone’s working together, if you speak to somebody in the right way, you’ll get a lot more work out of somebody if you appreciate them than you are if you’re belittling them and talking down to them. And it’s trying to get that through all the business. No matter what size the business is, all businesses, all companies, if you’re talking to people and you’re acting in the right way, then they’ll follow you and they’ll do the same. It’s about creating that culture. Thank you, Steve.
Really appreciate you coming and sharing your story. It’s a very powerful but thought-provoking story as well. Thank you for coming to share your story, but also for sharing it to other audiences. Tell me a little bit, if somebody wants to engage you for presentation in their organization, or you do a lot of also some life coaching, tell me how they can get in touch with you.
Basically, you can Google SK Life Coach UK, which is Steve Kirby Life Coach UK. And all of my social medias will come up. So, there’s the website, there’s LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and business page on Facebook. You just go to sklifecoachuk.com, all the information is on there. I normally I prefer to talk in person because the message comes across. I’ve got all these pictures of the accident. And the guys, or not just the guys, there’s a lot of women construction, but they can relate to me as to who I am and what I’ve done the work they’re doing. Rather than just being some guy who’s gone to university and studied the mind and I’m coming in to talk to him about it, I’ve actually done what they’ve done for the last 20 years. And now I found myself in this world because of an accident. So, I talk about the accident and the mental outside of it. But I also do it online as well. So, it does work as well when I share the screen and share the presentation online. So, any companies want to either book me in person or online, just go to sklifecoachuk.com.
Thank you, Steven.
Have a lovely day. Thank you very much, Eric.
Thank you for inviting me.
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. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.
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ABOUT THE GUEST
Steven Kirby is a former demolition/construction contractor with over twenty years of site experience. In 2011, he was involved in an accident at work which caused him to suffer both physically and mentally. In 2019, he set up SKLifeCoachUK Ltd. He now uses the tools, techniques, and knowledge that got him through his darkest times to coach individuals who are struggling. He also shares his story with companies to improve safety culture and mental health awareness.
For more information: https://www.sklifecoachuk.com/.
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