“Don’t Gamble With Your Safety”
One cold morning on January 24, Bernie walked out the door and went to work, just as he had done for 10 years.
Little did he know that it would be the last chance he had to walk anywhere again. Bernie was employed as a gas plant operator by a major North American oil and gas producer.
He was good at his job and very confident in his skills. He never dreamed he’d be injured performing the duties of his job.
When you learn to do what you do, you get comfortable with your surroundings; you may lose a little bit of respect with regards to the equipment or the job that you’re doing.
Bernie is the first to admit that complacency played a significant role in the incident that occurred later that day. He arrived at the plant at 7 a.m. to find the operation running in a smooth and steady fashion.
As a plant operator, Bernie frequently entered and exited many areas of the plant, often alone, in order to check and adjust various processes and equipment.
Bernie enjoyed the solitude of his job and seldom told others where he was going or when he planned to return.
On this particular day, Bernie was anxious to get home because he didn’t want his wife Sheila, who was six months pregnant, to come home to a cold, dark house.
His plan was to make an adjustment at a remote well location before heading home; unfortunately, he never made it.
Bernie has no memory of what happened in that building, but the incident investigation provided some important clues.
The investigation indicated that he was wearing a ball cap and reading glasses instead of a hardhat and safety glasses.
This was a glowing example of complacency “rearing its ugly head” as well as a blatant disregard for company policy.
Because there was a significant wound on his forehead and a flow meter was broken directly in front of the entrance door, Bernie believes that at some point he lost his footing and struck his forehead.
Something as simple as rushing into a familiar building or being distracted by thoughts of going home could have caused him to miss a step or to trip.
The strike to the forehead caused Bernie to become disoriented. During this time, he moved about the building that measured eight by 12 feet and was equipped with two 36-inch doors.
Not being able to get outside of the building, Bernie eventually came into contact with a bleed valve found on the methanol injection pump.
Methanol is a toxic chemical commonly used in freeze protection. It is damaging to the skin, nerves and organs; the amount of damage depends on the length of exposure.
Dazed from a blow to his head, Bernie collapsed into a pool of the toxic chemical.
When Sheila got home that night, the house was dark and Bernie wasn’t home. She assumed he had stopped off at a friend’s house to visit. After waiting for an hour, she began to worry.
She started phoning around to his friends, none of whom had heard from or seen Bernie. She finally called one friend, Al, and asked him to go look for Bernie. Al began retracing Bernie’s path shortly before midnight.
Al searched for hours, finally finding Bernie’s truck around 3 a.m.
Bernie had been saturated in methanol for 11½ hours.
During the three and a half-week time period Bernie was unconscious, his loved ones and those closest to him suffered through “absolute hell.”
It was something they did not deserve to suffer through, based on his decision that day. If he did survive, the prognosis was that he would be brain damaged, institutionalized and blind.
Also he would have a different personality and have the shakes. The doctors couldn’t answer any of their questions. They didn’t know for sure what methanol could do to him.
Bernie’s prolonged exposure resulted in second and third degree burns over 70 percent of his body. In addition, the chemical was affecting his organs, causing them to shut down.
His kidneys and liver failed and his lungs were burned so severely internally that he was no longer able to breathe on his own.
The magnitude of his injuries brought Bernie’s family members to the hospital on a number of occasions because he “wasn’t supposed to be there come morning.”
Bernie says he feels “extremely poorly” that his loved ones had to suffer through that for such an extended period of time.
Bernie has survived his ordeal, although permanent nerve damage has left him unable to walk.
The unfortunate combination of complacency, being in a hurry and not wearing his hardhat has changed his family’s lives forever.
“It’s easy to sit back and say ‘you know if I had another chance, I’d put the rest of my PPE on.’ There is no second chance,” says Bernie.
Workers have to appreciate how their decisions can affect the family at home, according to Sheila.
“Bernie’s decision that day not to wear his PPE affected us, and it will continue to affect us for the rest of our days,” she says.
How effective this is for all of us is entirely up to us. The onus is upon us as individuals to function with safety in mind at all times.
- Understand the policies and procedures.
- Make sure the appropriate personal protective equipment is being utilized.
- Educate ourselves on the dangers of any chemicals or any other hazardous material to which we may be exposed.
Remember, safety starts with awareness, awareness starts with you.
“When morals are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when morals are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.”
— Emile Durkheim
Thanks for the share, TO!