Mediaplanet Sat Down with the Inspirational Curtis Weber, Workplace Safety Advocate and Consultant
Can you tell us about your story?
I had just graduated from high school and took a summer job building steel grain bins, buying time, and anxiously waiting to begin playing Junior hockey in Western Canada. But, instead, on the third day of my first real job, my life as I knew it would change forever.
After a long, frustrating morning that saw our small construction team setting up a large steel structure, only to tear it down as the wrong material was delivered to the site, our day changed.
Without a proper discussion about the risk, we attempted to move a steel structure under an overhead powerline with our picker truck. Fifteen minutes before the move, we had a brief chat about the hazard but didn’t spend any time on how to control it. Like so many times, we thought it would be fine for all of us. Instead, I became the ground point as three separate cycles of 14,400 volts passed through my body in a split second. I was surrounded by steel, and as each cycle of 14.4 kV passed through me, the energy ejected into another part of the steel structure. My co-workers immediately turned into first responders. They tried to revive me on site until the paramedics arrived.
Following the incident, my family was informed that I wouldn’t survive, that my kidneys had failed, and the burns were just too significant to make a recovery. I spent six weeks in a coma with third/fourth-degree burns covering 65 percent of my body. I spent over six months in the hospital and with over 30 surgeries, including amputating my arm and left leg. After those six months where they saved my life, I would spend the next six years travelling for 15 reconstructive and plastic surgeries, with recovery times lasting months before returning to physio to prepare for the following procedure.
What’s the most important takeaway from your story that workers and employers should take with them?
I’ve always said that no matter how good or bad your safety program or organizational culture is, there’s always one constant in how we as workers can prevent going through what my family, friends, and co-workers have endured. That one constant is your voice. So speak up, speak out, and speak loud — voice those questions and those concerns.
Employers have the opportunity to create work environments where people like me and my crew would’ve felt okay taking more time to discuss the best options for that move, no matter how bad our day was going. That opportunity lies within a system which puts culture ahead of anything else — even safety. We can have the best safety program in the world and spend a million dollars on it. But, still, if it’s not communicated correctly, implemented properly, and we have a culture where people are afraid to follow it, then, unfortunately, it’s money not well spent.
Instead, create a culture, don’t implement one. The best organizational cultures that have created successful safety programs are by the craft, the crews, and the people on the front lines doing the work, while management and leadership play a supporting role, investing time and resources in the ideas brought to them.
What was the most challenging part of your road to recovery?
The hardest part is seeing how big of an impact this incident, which I could have prevented, has had on my family, friends, and co-workers. Learning how my family and friends reacted after being told their 17-year-old son, brother, or buddy wouldn’t survive is tough to think about. I watched my father cry for the first and only time in my life, right there at my bedside.
Trying to comprehend what my co-workers watched happen to a 17-year-old kid they had just met three days prior is a tough visual. Responding to and attempting to revive a lifeless teenager and then trying to keep him calm and immobilized until paramedics arrived is a situation I can’t imagine being thrown into.
I’ve developed guilt for those affected by my choices that day and what they had to endure. I had every opportunity to speak up when I wasn’t comfortable that we were making the best decision. I have no memory of that day or nearly two months after, but these people will never forget those moments, which has always bothered me.
What would you say to support those unfortunately affected by a workplace incident?
I’ve worked with many others who’ve been seriously injured while on the job. So, I share my story with them and focus on how they can channel any type of feeling or emotion they are dealing with. Surrounding yourself with friends and family who will be cautiously attempting to support or help with your recovery is something special. So let them in — let them help. It creates a safe feeling as you go through each part of your recovery together.