Meet Curtis Weber, a passionate advocate for workplace safety, who shares his inspiring story and the importance of a positive safety culture.
Can you tell us about your story?
At the age of just 17, I was working as a construction labourer on the prairies of Saskatchewan. I was weeks away from an opportunity to play Junior Hockey in Western Canada. Instead, on the third day of my first ever job, my life would change forever. As the crew and I were attempting to move a steel beam under an overhead power line with our picker truck, we made contact with the line. I was steadying the beam as three separate cycles of 14,400 volts passed through my body. After being transported to the hospital, my family was told it was unlikely that I would survive the incident. Instead, I would battle through a six-week coma where I would emerge with third and fourth-degree burns covering over 65 per cent of my body and the loss of my right arm and left leg. Over the next five years, I received extensive rehabilitation and underwent nearly 45 surgeries, including 15 reconstructive and plastic surgeries.
What’s the most important takeaway from your story that workers and employers should take with them?
I tell every organization that I share my story with, that creating a culture where everyone feels encouraged and comfortable with speaking up, sharing ideas and thoughts, or voicing concerns will be the most important component to driving the success of safety at their workplace. Culture needs to be instilled from both the management and worker level. If management truly believes in what it takes to create that positive culture, but we have a workforce that isn’t committed to following its policy, procedures, and processes, the culture and safety fails. Conversely, if we have a workforce actively wanting to engage in safe work practices, but management isn’t necessarily putting the time, resources, and commitment to developing that culture, the system also fails. The commitment to safety really needs to be driven together, but we can only achieve safety excellence if we first have an organizational culture that organically drives everything we do together.
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.