Building a Solid Foundation: Navigating Production Pressure and Prioritizing Safety for New Frontline Workers with Tom Corfield
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We’re excited to have Tom Corfield join the podcast this week to share his inspiring and heartfelt story of lessons he’s learned in overcoming adversity and prioritizing safety. At the age of 17, Tom was working as an apprentice in construction when he was involved in a workplace incident that left him blind. In this deeply moving episode, he shares the impact the incident had on his loved ones and his mental health. Tom’s message is sure to motivate you to build a safety foundation based on effectively navigating production pressure, leading with vulnerability, and prioritizing safety for frontline workers who are new within an organization. Tune in!
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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 success story begins now.
Hi, and welcome to The Safety guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Tom Corfield. Tom is a motivational speaker. He’s here to talk about an incident that happened 15 years ago and some of the effects that it had and some of the roles that leaders have, and particularly he was new into his role at the time. Tom, welcome to the show. Very excited to have you with me.
Hi, Eric. Thank you. Thanks for the offer. It’s been a pleasure. Hope you’re well. Really want to get my story out there and tell you guys all about it.
Definitely. Why don’t we start there? What happened? You were new in your role, you had recently started. Tell me about what happened.
I’ve always been interested in brick laying and being a construction worker. I got myself into an apprenticeship in the UK, a bricklaying apprenticeship with a big construction company. I was doing really well in my building. I was getting my level, my sitting guilt. I was progressing and doing really well with the brick laying. But then that was in the college part, and we then got put out onto. I went out onto this site, got on the site and just started. 17-year-old Tom just coming out of school. And it’s a big change. So, from being in school days and then, wow, you’re on this big site with machinery and noises and drills and everything going on around you. That day I got to the site. I always remember the day that happened. It was a wet day and tyrannical rain. It was like walked out and put my boots out and walked out onto the job and it was covered in mud already. But at that day, I was helping some laborers, helping the laborers load out for the brick layers below. And obviously as a starter coming up from the bottom, that’s the first major job you get done given is to help the libraries load out the bricks, the compo, things like that.
So, I was up on a scaffold, and I was carrying blocks. And like I said, I was only 17 years old. I was carrying concrete blocks and I could only carry one. And at this point, I was on the scaffold and the supervisor was working for, I’d seen him, and he shouted up to me, Tom, if you can’t carry two blocks, don’t carry none at all. So, I thought, oh, that’s my supervisor saying that I better stop what I’m doing. So, I asked the lab as I was working with, what do you want me to get him? Because he wants me to carry two blocks and I can’t carry the weight of two blocks if you understand. So, I started filling up the bucket and the compo, which is the wet cement in the big tub and picking it up onto my shoulder in a bucket. And I’m walking along a scaffold and having to come down to a staircase below where there were two group lads waiting for me to pass them their compost. Like I said, it was torrential rain. The rain was getting worse, and we’ve been told by the supervisor that day we would get the job done and we’d be able to have the Friday off.
The Friday was apparently it was a wet day as well, so I said, get the job done today and everyone will have an early day frauded. So, you can imagine the pace has picked up. So, I’m back and forth with these buckets of wet cement. And at the one point, I took it off my shoulder and as I took it off my shoulder, it slipped out my hands. But I’ve automatically gone forward with it. It’s all in one motion. Sure. And the buckets hit flat down on the floor and the splash back has gone straight up into my eyes, my nose, my mouth, everywhere. My whole face was just covered in wet cement. I don’t know if a lot of people know, but the cement is a lime base. So, they add lime to it, which helps it more workable. So, at the point, I’ve been told about lime burns and things like that at college. And all of a sudden, I just screamed out. And the two libraries I was working with, they came, they picked me up and said, come on, we’ve got to get straight to the toilets to wash your face out.
And people didn’t understand the amount of cement that got into my face and into my eyes. I had to wash my eyes out in the sink, and it was that bad. Took me to the side office to use the little oil wash solutions that most companies have in the first aid box. They unfortunately ran out and didn’t have enough to clean my eyes out with. So, my supervisor then picked me up. He took me then to the nearest hospital. We got lost on the way to the hospital. Eventually, got to the hospital for them to tell me that I am probably never going to be able to see again and this was all due to the lime penetrating the eyeballs. And it was just burning the eyes. So, I got to the local eye hospital in Birmingham, and I was then told at 17 years old, you’re probably never going to be able to see again. And the guy what it led up to was having my eyes scraped. They were putting cotton wool buds, long cotton wool sticks and scraping the eyes and trying to get the cement out of my eyes. And this had happened around midday, and they were still scraping cement out of the back of my eyes. Like it’s nine o’clock in the night. Oh, my goodness. My parents, they got the phone call to say that I’d been in an accident at work. My mom’s last day at work for around two years where she was then my career. I was not knowing if I was ever going to see again. And yeah, that’s where my life drastically changed and went to the worst. Depression, suicide, a lot of things changed then because I was a 17-year-old lad who had the freedom to do anything he wanted. He just wanted to be a builder and have his own construction company later on in life to then one day, never knowing if I’m ever going to be able to see again. So, yeah, it messed with my head. I can’t really say words that can explain it, but just lying in a hospital bed, not being able to see a thing and just listening for the noises around you, it was heartbreaking. No kidding. And it was heartbreaking for family and friends to see me in that way.
So, if we go into that day, you’re new in the role, you’re 17 years old, unfortunately, hear that story too often. Somebody who’s new comes on a site, wants to do a good job. Supervisor is sending a message of – “Let’s get it done”, and specifically putting pressure on you, what are some of the things that organizations can do with a new employee that comes in? Because you want it to do well. My guess is you were going above and beyond trying to show I’m doing my best.
You want to show that you’re keen and you want that job. You know what I mean? You want to show people and that supervisor or that manager that you want to work hard for them. And that’s what I was doing. I was trying my hardest to get to keep up with the other l avers because when you’ve got about 10, 15 brick layers in front and who are constantly lying, you’ve got to keep constantly throwing bricks there, blocks there, cement, compost, mix. It’s a stressful time. And coming from a young lad to then straight ship straight onto the building sites like that. And you’ve got supervisors screaming down your head. And it’s a big pressure. It’s a lot of pressure for these young lads. And I’ve met a lot of young apprentices over the years now working on site. And they’re in much change, but people need to realize you’ve got to give these young lads a chance. They might not know everything that’s going on the job and people are expecting them to know a lot. And you can’t just expect someone to come out of school and know what everything they need to do, and I think that’s where a lot of supervisors do push people. And when it’s your supervisor, you’ll think that’s what you should be doing. And that’s how they want everything to be done. And unfortunately for me, that day I was stressed, and I was rushed and.
I was soaking wet, working in wet conditions and it all hit in one. And things I do now, I make sure I take a step back before I get given a task. Step back, take a step back and check your surroundings and things like that. Just look away and look at what you got to do instead of jumping straight into it and then eventually could lead to an accident.
What are the things that a supervisor could do to set the right frame? Because I’m assuming you come to the site, there’s some form of site induction orientation about the risk, the hazards. What are some of the things that leaders and organizations can do to influence driving the right choice? Obviously, the supervisor and how he showed up wasn’t helpful because he was talking about try to shorten the day, you don’t have to work tomorrow, things of that nature. That creates a pressure across everybody to try to move faster. And yes, productivity is important, but that’s where short cuts can happen, and we make mistakes.
This is it. Things like where they told everyone on site that they probably wouldn’t have to come to work tomorrow because of rain. That probably should have been done at the end of the day. So, people didn’t rush to get the job done and think, I’m getting a day off tomorrow thing. It could have been the super bowl. I could have left that till get the job done and then tell the lads they wouldn’t have to come in tomorrow. It would have been a lot better for people to hear that. But just in general, just really just to have more induction and start. When people come onto the sites, it’s probably a best thing to show people examples of accidents that have happened. For example, mine, over the years of me working, I did used to do induction for the lads on site, and I always told them about my accident and give them a bit of knowledge about what happened to me, just so when they go out onto site and they have to have a job which is task specific, wearing glasses. And then I’ve told them more about my accident. It might make them think, oh, that lad told me about his accident.
I better just put some glasses on before I do this job in case something flicks up and hits me in the face. And this is more like what a lot of supervisors should be doing to their employees, just telling them things that could happen and that has happened, not to scare them, just to make them realized and make the awareness. And that’s what I’m trying now is just to make people aware of how easy an accident like what happened to me happened. Because one day you could be going to work, the next day you might not be coming home. And that’s the sickening thing about it. And a lot of people have got families which depend on them, especially us. We are like the main source of family income.
So, a lot of supervisors, to me, these days, they need to just think about the jobs they’re saying they need people to do because at the end of the day, you could task, you could set someone a task or a job and you might know it’s not safe, but you’ve still sent that employee out to do this job. And then something could happen to them, an accident or even worse, death. And that supervisor’s then got to live with that for the rest of his life. I probably said supervisor who was looking after me, knew about what happened, and I’ll stick with him for the rest of his days because I don’t suppose he knows what’s happening to me now. 15 years later.
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Is there as well some elements here in terms of preparedness? So, you mentioned safety glasses. Should you have been wearing safety glasses? Is this something that should have been thought through before that the site should have prepared you for? Should there have been enough solution for an incident like this so that on site they had enough?
This is the thing that obviously, yet they didn’t have enough wash solutions on site, which it was a separate salt to the company I was an apprentice with. So, I was like a subcontractor to this main contractor.
So, the glass is policy that wasn’t really heard of back 2006, 2007. It was more or less if you were wearing glasses, it was down to your own. It was off your own back. It wasn’t pushed to your bottom line, like the companies or the health and safety. It was more like a task specific, wear them glasses if you were wearing it, if you’re doing cutting steel or cutting bricks or things like that or chopping bricks. So, it was up to you if you wanted to wear them. But then my accident happened. The company I was working for, they had the health and safety obviously got involved. And a lot of companies over the years since have made it mandatory for all their employees to wear glasses on site. I know the company I was working with, as soon as you walked onto that job, you had to wear full PPE, glasses, hardhats, boots, gloves. And that was from when you started to work to when you come off the job. So obviously, before nothing was heard of until Tom here as this accident, dropped this bucket of cement and it splashes in his eyes. And that’s what I mean I wasn’t given glasses to people. Didn’t realize how bad it was. A lot of people still to this day don’t understand how a bucket of cement can cause someone to go blind until they see a picture.
But this is the thing. Safety specs and safety glasses on site are obviously I’d always wear them myself. I’m site now, I’m constantly got my safety specs on because tiny bit of dust could get into my one eye and I’m blind again. And like I say to people on my motivational talks, I drive around on dumpier trucks and things like that. And if something goes in my eye without a pair of specs on, I could potentially hit someone, and the worst could happen. So, I have to be wearing more safety glasses all the while.
That’s what I’m trying to make people realize is that wearing these glasses, yeah, people might feel like they look a bit odd wearing these big glasses on your face. But if they’re going to protect these eyes, and this is the main thing that people need to realize, you have an accident like I had with my eyes. And you’re self-employed, working on a grant or working on a grant or you’re working on a site and your self-employed lads and you have an accident and you’re off for work for a year and no money’s been made, who’s going to be making that money? And it’s just a breakdown of things that you’ve got to make people realize is if you lose your job, you could lose your home and you could lose your family, you could lose your life. And the horrible steps that he could go down. And looking for me, I didn’t have to go down that way because my family, I had a strong family bond and they kept me in the right position. It did mentally mess with me in my head. And it happened. But now I’m trying to make a negative into a major positive.
Tell me a little bit about that. In terms of the knock-on effects, you touched on the impact personally in terms of how there was a physical pain, the physical impact. Tell me a little bit about what was the knock-on effect on family loved ones and then where you are now.
At the accident, like I said, I was a 17-year-old, still lived at home. My parents both lived at home. My brother lived at home. He was just going to university. Like I said, my mom, from that day forward, my mom was my career at 17 years old, being 17 years old and having your mom care for you and look after you. Just two weeks before the accident, passed my driving test and that’s one of the main things I wanted to do as a kid had my own car. Then you got your own freedom. I had my own freedom for two weeks. I was in work; I was driving my car to work. Then one day, not knowing if I’m ever going to see again, my mom being my career. He put pressure on the family, he did. I’m not going to lie, he eats. Mum and dad, they had arguments and things. My mom was taking me to the hospital every Monday. That was more or less a full day sitting around hospitals. And that happened for about a couple of years. She had to do a lot of things. I more or less was bedbound, or I was laying a settee.
So, she was more, made my food, made my drinks, things like that. Like put my drops in. I had to have drops. I was having all drops in every hour of the day, day and night. So, I was having that many different all drops, so she had to make her own spreadsheets so she could then make sure she was putting the right drop in the right eye. So, it was like a day. It was like a full-time job just looking after me for two years. And it was hard. My dad, he was the one who had to then keep the money coming in. Like I said, my brother was about to go to university. He obviously did. He needed money to pay for his university and things like that. So, he did put pressure on. I can’t not fault my family for everything they’ve done. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be speaking to you now. The state of mind I was in after the accident, I was ready to give up. And luckily, like I said, having that, then parents look after me and be behind me, it’s made me into that better person today. And now I have nowadays, like I said, I’m trying to do these motivational talks to make people realize and make things aware of how easy these accidents can happen. I lost the confidence. That was another big thing for me. Confidence was a big loss. I couldn’t talk to people. I couldn’t have face to face conversations. I couldn’t speak to women. I was paranoid about people looking at me in a different way. So, I didn’t put myself out there to meet girls and things like that and then a few years ago, five years ago, I met my beautiful fiancée who now is making me a stronger person and making me to the biggest person now to get up and speak to hundreds of people and make people aware. I can’t fault her for anything. She’s done so much for me in the last few years. That’s how the change in my life has happened. It’s like going from being down in the dumps and not knowing what’s going to happen to me in life to now being up there about to get married, have a baby on the way, have a beautiful girl, my fiancée, and a lovely house, and doing these motivational talks to hopefully prevent other people going down that path, and just making awareness and realization of what could happen.
I think it’s a great ending to a horrible incident in terms of where you’re at. I think there’s some important pieces here just in terms of, as I shared, somebody new to the job is much more likely to get influenced by production pressure, things of that nature. There’s a lot to be done when you bring in your employee. I’ve seen some leaders that do a phenomenal job recognizing that and showing up, making sure that somebody doesn’t feel they need to need to rush, that making sure that they reinforce that what matters is their safety. And if it takes a little bit longer to do it, that’s okay. Just really making sure that somebody who’s an apprentice, who’s learning, is taking the time and is not negatively impacted by production pressures. There’s a lot of elements that can be done in terms of creating a setting that’s welcoming and also identifies the risk and the hazards to prevent early on. And I think that’s an important story or message from his story.
It’s true. Young employee should be supervised from the date that someone step on that site to the time they finish. They shouldn’t be left alone because like I said, anything could happen. And this is what people need to realize. These supervisors need to understand that when they send people out on sort, then they need to know that even the person they’re sending out on sort is their monster straight because a lot of us have problems at home and we don’t know what to tell people about it. I could have a problem at home, I go to work and that problem’s in my head and it’s taking my whole concentration off the tasks I should be doing at work. Like I said to these supervisors, even before you send someone out, just check them all out in the morning, just have a chat with them. Did you get up too much last night? Did you have a good weekend? Just find out a bit about the lads you’re working with. It helps people out mentally. It really does. I love having the conversation with people at work. Now it’s great. I love going to work and especially working on site.
It’s a different… It’s a good crack. Everyone gets on with each other and we all have a laugh. But you’ve got to make sure because all men, most men work on site and a lot of men do need to talk up and speak up a bit and speak about the problems because if I didn’t speak about my problems and I bottled it up inside, it could lead to other things. And that’s what a lot of us men do. And that’s what I like to cover in my talks, a lot more about men speaking and opening up to other blokes. And don’t be worried about what other people think about. But I could probably say people would say things about me doing the things I do now because it’s what I used to do. But you’ve got to make a change in life. It’s not all about sitting in the background. You’ve got to get yourself out and make people understand you a bit more. That’s one thing, like I say, us blokes don’t like to do because we feel like with a strong bond, we’re that main person in the family and things like that.
You don’t want to show people your weaknesses, but it’s all wrong to show people your weaknesses. Don’t be scared about showing other men or other people that you’re weak because we’re not all weak, we’re strong. This is what we all need to start doing these days is just opening up a bit more to other people. Not too much. Like I said, in the morning, you’ve got your lads coming in the office and just have a chat with them and just check that they’re all right before you send them. See how they’re doing.
Just before you send them out on a job, or you could be going up a big building, or it could be high or down the ground. But just check they’re all right before they go out onto the job. In case something isn’t all right, and they then do have an accident, which you could have prevented as a job supervisor.
Simple things, but incredibly important things.
In terms of creating the rapport when you get somebody on site. And I think also recognizing that a new employee and apprentice is trying to do their best and they interpret from their leaders what good looks like and are more likely to rush or do something, cut a corner if they think that that’s what’s desired of their leader. That’s it.
That’s it. This is why I’m trying to do this now because… Well, like I said, I was a young lad at one point and that’s what happened. And if I can stop other young lads losing the salt or losing anything, you know what I mean? I know I’m doing a good job and that’s what it’s all about is making sure they’re aware of everything that’s going on in the workplace.
Sure. Tom, really appreciate you sharing your story and congratulations on your new addition to your family coming and the upcoming wedding. Wishing you all the best. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, Tom, and is interested in hearing your story or having you share your story, how can they do that?
I’m on LinkedIn under Tom Corfield, Motivational Talker, and Facebook, Instagram, everything. But yeah, LinkedIn is the main source of where you can find me or anything. That’s where I put a lot of my talks, a lot of my speeches I’ve done over the years. Everything gets uploaded onto LinkedIn. So, if anyone is interested or would like to hear my speech and my story about the accident and my life and awareness and health and safety, mental health, yeah, Tom Corfield. That’s where you can find me. But I appreciate the invitation, Eric, and I hope I can make a difference.
Absolutely. Well, thank you for sharing your story and for joining the show today.
Thank you, Eric. Cheers. 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. 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
Tom Corfield suffered a workplace accident 15 years ago where he lost sight in his left eye. He was just 17 when cement splashed back in his face, covering his eyes leaving him blind. Tom raises the key message that such a small incident had a huge impact on himself, his family, and his colleagues. It strengthens the message that managing health and safety, no matter how trivial it may seem, is so important.
For more information: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-corfield-803039180 or [email protected].
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