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Play it safe (Luke Hodge)

Luke Hodge, ALF Great shares his personal experience with workplace safety, after witnessing a friend in a severe accident, and the aftermath of this.

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Hello everyone and thank you very much for joining me on my workplace health and safety presentation today. My name is Luke Hodge and over the next 30 minutes I'm going to be sharing with you a lot that I've learnt over the two industries that I've worked in in my professional life, a few stories, a few videos, but also more importantly, a story from a good friend of mine and what he went through through a workplace safety issue. So firstly, a little bit about myself. I played 18 years in the AFL, 16 years with the Hawthorn Football Club, two years with the Brisbane Lions Football Club. And I understand I am in Queensland, which is the heartfelt of Rugby League. And I know that I wouldn't have to explain probably my career if I was this guy.

And as we know, it's Cameron Smith, who we all know. And I guess Queenslanders probably don't like him and what he's done in that purple jersey of his. But I'll tell you what, when he wore them around, I know everyone loved him up here. And I guess the two blokes as well in Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater.

But I guess in our industry, AFL, very similar to League. It's physical, you need endurance.

One thing with AFL, it's 360 degrees. You can get hit from anywhere. And the safety areas that we need put in place to protect us is huge. And it's developed so long over the last 15 to 20 years. For the people who don't know much about AFL up here, I've got a little video, which is awkward for me because it is a bit of my career. But I thought I'll show you some of the physical needs and what our bodies go through during a game of football. So I'll play this little video.

Off the line.

Which of his playing this role? Beautifully at the moment. He's trying to double team. - Oh, hot! Quite a mark for the year. He came from the clouds. Body on the line. Had to do it. - Hot. - Oh, good hits. - Beautiful, hip and shoulder on risk of tally. - Lewis has given it straight to Seward, has gone to Swift and desperate smother by Hodge.

Long way from home, into the middle. Had the threat, the needle. Had a little bit too much on it for our leaves. Now Blake, just goes bang, seems to get out of the way.

Jordan Lewis.


Lewis extracts. Hodge, running to goal! Off the river in front!

(crowd cheering)

That's what you want from your skid-off.

And then the regather, if you're up below, Hodge from the boundaries, gonna have a shot, Luke Hodge, have a look at that goal! You can't do that unless your name's Luke Hodge.

He was always gonna kick it. - He's pushing back to milling, keep towards Norfolk on the version, looking in press of the Hodge. It's good stuff. He hands off to Hodge from outside 50. He loads up and kicks up beauty!

Oh, this is great stuff. Luke Hodge celebrates with a grab! - Is it gonna open up for the Roos in this quarter? Or can the Hawks make something of this? Hodge, the Breein's out of the middle, the driving ball, it's got the left, it's there!

He gets the handball over the top.

Hodge some hard running and controlled the footy brilliant as well. Outside of the group, great start, Hodge!

Kicks to the park, Kurt. And Hodge, the birthday boy! And now, plays on and goals!

Well done, boy, gets it back to Murphy. Sintering, kicking, doing half a chance. Half well done. - The ball has to move up, though, to move up to him. - So he goes wide, but it's a dangerous kick of Hawthorne, get it? Well done, Golden. And then forced to kick high, now Barry with a chance, Kurt with his eyes on a little from Fritter. You know who it is, don't you?

Yeah, it's him. - That was very cringe-worthy for me to sit back and watch that. I hope it gives you a bit of an understanding of what we put our body through. As I said, it was a 360-degree sport. You get hit from all angles. You put yourself in positions where you have to go back and put your eyes on the ball and whatever comes, you have to deal with that. Not only with the physical side of things, you have to run, you have to be endurance-based person as well. Players can run up to 20K a game, over 25 games, that's 500K, and that's outside. That's just in games without training. So I've now retired. My role now is commentator of Channel 7, doing the football on Fridays and Saturday nights. I love the game, I'm passionate about the game. And I do see a lot of close-ups of how physical the game is getting. It's getting faster, it's getting stronger. All the players are getting stronger. They're fitter, they hit harder, and the AFL need to put things in place to protect the players, because the players will do what they need to win games, and the AFL and the clubs need to put things in place to stop them from getting injured. Speaking of injuries, I've had a few myself over the journey of 18 years. As you see there, there's been numerous times that I've gone off with bandages around my head. Not only myself, so do my teammates. Also, broken arms.

If you look at the next one, there's a list of injuries that I've had over my career, which is there's been knee operations, shoulder operations. Broken nose, I've had five ops on my fingers or hands. I've had bruised broken ribs and many more there. But I guess the broken arm one, I actually got in trouble with my wife, because that happened around one, 2016.

I said to my wife the year early, she wasn't a big person for watching football. She would go and join in and socialise with the other partners. And I said to her that maybe she needs to pay attention in case I break her leg, get knocked out, she might have to drive myself from the kids home. So for 12 months, she sat there bored watching football and I broke my arm. She finally was her time to shine. I'm not saying that my wife's a bad driver, but she went to grab the keys and I drove myself to the hospital with a broken arm. So from that, she said, buggy, she continued to socialise and drink and I had to make sure I didn't get injured.

That's a bit of a light hearted one, but there is a lot of serious stuff when it comes to football.

There's a person there called Jordan Lewis. I played in four AFL premierships with Jordan.

He played over 300 games for Hawthorne in the Melbourne Football Club, one of the tougher players that I've ever played with. Unfortunately in football, when you put yourself in certain positions, you're expected to go. And that is your teammates expect you to go the outside world and if you don't go, the media will show it. And here's a clip of Jordan doing a brave act, which obviously had consequences.

You're right. If they can get in fit in playing well, suddenly looks impressive. Oh! Oh, Lewis has not moved. Wonderful courage from both players. It was a terrible pass. It put him in danger. Spills wide Higgins. Opportunity. The hand pass comes across from Pickett. Little concern is with Lewis. Jordan Lewis.

He'll stretch out immediately.

It's 50, don't worry, it's 50. And it's 50 metres. Come on, let's go. Jordan's missing. Stretch out a nut. You just... You just hold your breath, though. Don't you want to see those lateral kicks into the centre of the ground? Oh, that's just great courage. The ball's there. Hard brown hands to make an attempt to mark the ball.

He's out before he hits the ground there, Lewis. He's not even hit on the ground. They said they were behind it. It's a primitive game sometimes. On these sports in the world where you see that sort of courage. In fact, I can't think of a way. There's not one in this. In fact, even in the past, there he is. He's just out and caught completely on the ground.

And as you see that last statement then, after such a physical hit from Jordan, you could see that he was out on the ground, his arms erected. Clearly, he was concussed, knocked out. He goes back onto the ground in the last quarter because that was the mentality back then. Things have changed. We know that the game has got safer. LFL have put things in place to make sure the players are safe. And the expectation of putting your body on the line like it used to, it isn't there anymore. We tell players these days that if you feel you're in a comfortable position, as much as it feels that you don't want to pull out of the contest, it's smarter and safer for you to be on the ground to help your team rather than getting carried off in such a dangerous position.

We've got also another thing that the AFL have introduced and the rugby league have very big on this as well. But AFL has brought in tackling rules. So over the last season of the AFL, 32 players were suspended from dangerous tackles for a total of 43 weeks. A lot of the players from the old days say the game's getting softer, but as I mentioned earlier, it's more physical, it's stronger, it's faster. And we have to put things in place to protect the players. It's amazing that Jordan Lewis is there on his weekly segment talking about how serious injuries that concussions are.

And this is where the AFL and NRL are starting to lead the way by implementing rules for concussion. If you look at there, the AFL, it's a minimum 12 days if a player fails a concussion test before they could play, and if not longer, if the feelings, the ongoing feeling from the concussion is still there. And the AFL, I think it's 11 days for a really serious concussion. So it just shows that these industries are protecting their players from putting themselves at harm and making sure that their safety is paramount in the industry.

That was my first 18 years of my adult career. Of late, I've changed into a different industry. I've gone into the building and construction industry, and the story that I was going to talk to you about was of a really good mate of mine,

Ben, who had a tragic injury 21 years ago. This is Ben.

Ben was at the prime of his life. I guess you could say it. He was 21. Ben loved sport. He also was a rugby rep. He was young, he was fit, and he was just starting to see a beautiful young lady.

How good is his life? Work-wise, he just completed his apprenticeship nine months prior. He loved his job until it went awfully wrong.

Ben's role was to change the transmission in one of these bulldozers, the D475 bulldozer, which is pretty simple for him to do. What they do is they grab a pulley, and it's a pulley that looks exactly like that. And the whole idea is to lift the cabin that the driver sits in. The cabin that the driver sits in, put it on its back, so then it's easy for a bloke like Ben and the other workers to jump down, change the transmission, and then the same pulley will lift the cabin back up to put it back in place, just as you see in that picture there. Unfortunately for Ben, on this current day, as the cabin was getting put back into its normal position, he saw that there was a hydraulic hose that was going to be squashed by the cabin. He's done, as he's done a thousand times and yelled out, "Stop, stop, we've got something in the road," and he thought, as it's happened before, that the driver had heard him and had paused the movement of the crane to keep the cabin safe.

The driver didn't hear Ben. The steer did not hear Ben. He continued to move the cabin back to where it was supposed to be. Unfortunately for Ben, thinking that the cabin had stopped, he went there to move the hydraulic hose. The cabin overbalanced and fell forward and landed on Ben, crushing his leg. And as you see there, that is a picture of Ben.

Pretty gruesome, I know, and sorry for the people that have weak stomach, but that is a picture of Ben laying up in hospital.

The cabin crushed Ben's tibia and fibula on his right leg and went through and landed on his left foot, lucky that he had steel cap boots on, that his left foot was saved.

Ben was rushed to hospital, and as you can see in that, he spent a long time in hospital. There were multiple operations. The doctors were optimistic that he was going to save his leg.

After more operations, he finally got the good news after a month or so that he was likely to go home.

Yes, he was wheelchair bound, but he was just excited to get home. And picture that, you've been in hospital for a month, all you want to do is get back to that comfy bed. Everyone who's been away from home for a long period of time, all you dream of is getting back home into that comfy bed. Imagine being in Ben's position, huge operations, what he'd been through, finally got the notice that in a week or so they would be able to go home. Unfortunately for Ben, and with the vision you could see in parts of it, that the leg wasn't developing as fast as what the doctors wanted. Due to the lack of blood flow getting to his foot, you could see his big toe there.

It started to turn black in other parts of his foot, which is very gruesome. So they started a procedure called debridement, which debridement is where you peel back the dead skin from your foot, the infected skin from your foot, in hope that the blood will return back there to help heal his gruesome injuries.

After a while, Ben was given not great news that his leg wasn't recovering the way that they wanted to and the fact that he was going to have to stay in hospital a little bit longer.

This was crushing for Ben. As I said, imagine what he was going through. Now he realised that he's got a few more months in hospital because the operations haven't gone to plan. And he said, "This is where the real emotions come out." He said, "The anger of why me? How did the operations work? "Why am I still sitting in hospital

"when other people have gone through this and they're being fixed? "It's gone into hurt, to sadness.

"Thinking about his football, "will I ever be able to have the chance to play football again?" He was disheartened, getting the notice that he wasn't... The information, he wasn't going to be able to go home and see his friend have a home-cooked meal, have a beer with his family, like old times. He was emotionally at breaking point. And as we know, we've hit that stage. He said he was as low as he's been and he was really struggling in the situation that he was in.

Unfortunately, as we know, in life, that sometimes when it rains, it pours. And there was more bad news to come Ben's way.

After more of the debridement procedures, the injury wasn't healing as they wished, and all of a sudden he got messages from the doctor that there's a chance that they're going to have to amputate his leg. And it was more than a chance. It was probably going to be more of a probability now with what had happened. Imagine that, you're 21 years of age, life's good, you're at the peak of your fitness, and all of a sudden, after a little mistake, a little slip, you end up sitting in hospital wondering, "Am I... I'm about to have an operation to amputate my leg."

One thing that Ben said that did get him through it was the support from his family and friends.

He, like everyone else, were optimistic that the injury was going to recover, but it didn't. Ben went through. He had the amputation with his leg, but he said without those people there, without his family, friends, he would never have got through this. But it's amazing to think the resilience of someone that he still says, "Thank you." He says, "Thank you for the people that stuck with him." He doesn't know where he would have been if he didn't have the people of support to go through this.

And then, 21 years later, after that injury, that's him with his then-girlfriend, now-wife, and his two beautiful children.

But Ben still drives home how important safety at work is. He looks back at a few minor, simple things that could have prevented his injury, and that's what he pushes at work. Ben has upskilled himself, and he still works at that same company in a managerial role, and preaches to his workers how important safety is, because the thing is, you go to work to come over to your loved ones, and that's why it's been so big for Ben, and that's why it's touched us, because we all know of friends that have had some hard luck stories on the work site.

And Ben is definitely one of those. From Ben's story, this is something that I've gone into in my second phase. Football was my first, and as I said, construction's the second part of it. We started a company up here, a labour hire company, and in the photo with OCC's, our general manager in the middle is Clint Watson, our managing director, Luke Livingston.

Both footballers, both coaches, and they understand how important work safe is. Going from a little bit from what I spoke about with the football, but they've learned a lot from Ben, they've learned a lot from his story, and they've heard a lot from other friends that have been in similar positions that have hurt himself on the work site through little things that could have stopped it. We all know that there are injuries that are inevitable, but we need to try and limit those. And everything that we do when we hand out to our workers, anyone who comes to OCC to get inducted, we make sure that we hand them the workplace health and safety booklet, and all those there, some big, some minor, and we need to teach these people that safety's paramount. And there's stuff there, the PPE safety gear, there's helmets now, there's the steel cap boots. Everything that they need to know about keeping themselves safe, making sure that they get home at the end of the day to make sure that they see their loved ones is crucial and so important. And you think about injuries as the big part of things, it's not. Injuries is every part of your job. We hand out to our employees simple stuff like the individual lifting process. And how many people have you heard of, "I've hurt my back at work because I didn't lift the boxes properly." These are little things that can cause damage over a long period of time. So you try and upskill your workers, or you try and teach your workers the best way that they can get through work. And businesses are really good, and in the industry is now is excellent. So many tickets you can have to upskill workers as far as working at heights, working from confined spaces. We try and teach our people the more tickets and the more understanding and the safer they are. One, they'll be more employable to others, but two, it's safety. And they get home at the end of the day if their safety's paramount in their mindset. One other thing that we do at OCC, which we've learned over the years, we've got our business development manager and our GM that are skilled with a fit mask. They can go out to work sites and, I guess, fit out our employees to make sure that in confined spaces, they've got the masks, that they're not inhaling anything that's going to give them damage further down the road. And if you see the photo on the right there, that's our office. And in the back, there's a lot of behaviours that we try and live by as a business. But what I want you to take notice of is the blue one in the middle. It stands out a little bit, but that's the safety one. We want to make sure that all of our workers are, I guess, told and instructed that safety is the most important thing for them because on the far right is family. In those pictures of the five behaviours, they're the two most important things for us. Making sure you're safe to get home to your family. A lot of people go to work day in, day out to provide for their wife, to provide for their husband or their kids.

And this story coming from Ben and myself, that's me. The reason why I played football for so long and safety was so important so I could get home for my wife and kids and Ben's the same. 21 years later, he wouldn't have the opportunity to be standing there with his beautiful wife and his two kids if things weren't put in place. And we don't want anyone else to go through the injury that Ben went through because we know that if it had been another metre in that fall with the cabin, Ben may not be here to enjoy this time with his wife and kids. So thank you very much for taking the time for me to go through a little bit of the presentation. I understand that you do have some questions that are coming through.

I'll read them out as we go. Have you seen any work-related incidents that's changed the way you do things? Yes, the video that I showed earlier with Jordan Lewis, a teammate I was playing on the game and to sit there and watch a teammate go through that to see how hazed he was afterwards. You understand that in our industry, there are risks. We all know that when you sign up to play sport in any industry, you know there are going to be risks. But since I've seen a lot of my friends either be concussed, I've seen broken legs at training, I've seen knee reco's, I've seen torn Achilles sitting right there.

And that's where I'm a big believer for the AFL that they're putting things in place to try and make sure that players do protect themselves because we know they're so competitive when they cross the white line that sometimes they put themselves at harm's risk. So you need some rules around that to protect them.

Do you have any side effects from the head blows from your AFL career? If you ask my wife, she probably says yes. No, I'm very fortunate. I did have a lot of head knocks throughout my career.

I'm probably fortunate where I have had a lot of contact with players that I played with, played against, that have really suffered from a lot of their concussions. And a lot of them are multiple ones. There's a lot that are out in the media that you know about, but there is a lot also that people don't know about. And that's interrupting their everyday life, which is shattering to see. They've got young kids. A lot of the guys sometimes forget the names of their kids. So this is why it is so important that we do put things in place to protect players because they do put their body at risk. And I think the AFL, the NRL and other codes have taken big steps in this place to try and protect the player.

Young people think they're invincible. How do you get through to them the importance of safe work practices?

You're right. Young blokes, young workers do think that they are invincible. And you think back to when you were 17, 18, 19, you didn't have kids to worry about. You didn't have a partner to worry about. You were living pay check to pay check. You were just worried about having fun with your friends and going to work.

The best way we can do that is teach them. As an older person, it's in a football club, it's an older person bonding with a younger person to try and make sure that you teach them the ins and outs. It's no different on the work side. If you've got an apprentice that comes into work, you need to marry him up with an older person who can help them. Get them to understand what could go wrong. If you see certain techniques that they do, you need to tell them they need to be a leader amongst themselves to try and guide this young person and have a bit of pride that you're teaching them to do the right thing. And as we all know that sometimes young guys think they know everything and they don't listen, you've got to push past that. You've got to be resilient in continuing to teach them the best way to go about it. Because at the end of the day, you don't want to see accidents like what happened to Ben or even worse, a death on site.

How do you ensure workers are prepared to work at different work sites?

I think it's open communication with the workers. Understand what they need to do. Understand what they're willing to do and most importantly talk to the client and understand what job that they need. So you need to match up and you need to understand what the workers capabilities are and try and match them up as best. And the easiest way that I've found through leadership, through both AFL and in the construction industry is communication. Communication is so easy. Ask questions, find out what they like doing, find out what they don't like doing. Rather than just assuming and sending someone out to work, get to know them, get to understand them. At least that way for when you know if they're going to like the job, if someone loves your job, you're going to commit to it and work hard. And if they don't like it, they'll probably take shortcuts, which will probably end up in an injury. So make sure you communicate and get to know the worker before you send them out.

What do you think is the biggest challenge when it comes to workplace safety? I think it's sort of what we've touched on. It's the little things that we know that we've done a thousand times that sometimes you may over skip or you may not pay attention or you're talking while you're doing something because you've done it a thousand times. I guess it's just skipping how important the safety areas are and not just because you've done a thousand times. A thousand one time you might slip up and get injured. So it's paying attention to all the little things. And obviously having awareness around you as well. We spoke with Ben and he was focused in on the hydraulic hose because he'd done it before and just went to remove it. And then the cabin driver, crane driver, who probably didn't realise that Ben was in the area. So those little things, communication, paying attention, but also understanding your surroundings is so crucial for just to stop you or a colleague getting injured.

What was the highlight of my career?

Highlight in football was winning four premierships, I'd have to say. But also when you bring in your family into it, in 2014, I was lucky enough to play my 250th game in the 2014 grand final. And I was able to run through the banner with my two kids that I had at the time. And I've got great photos of them doing snow angels, confetti angels in the confetti after the game. So anything where you can enjoy your business, enjoy your job, but also include your family with it is something that holds dear to my heart. And that's probably the highlight of my career.

How do you prepare yourself mentally for a big game? How do you prepare yourself mentally? I guess understanding your role.

If you understand your role, you've got no doubts in your head. You've got clarity in what you need to do. I feel that in big games, people find themselves worrying about the crowds, worrying about am I going to get a kick, worrying about stuff that's out of your control. If you go in there with clarity of what you need to do to help your team win, the game will just flow and you'll be able to relax. And the people or the teams that relax the earliest normally come out the winner. That's how I, that was my mindset to a big game.

Is the culture of experienced workers on site watching out for new inexperienced employees part of the WHS process, especially on site? Well, a big one, I think in any work site, you need to make sure that the senior guys look out for anyone. In saying that, any colleague should be able to look out for anyone. If you see someone who's not doing the right thing, you should be able to go across and speak. And whether that's a third year person there talking to a 20 year or vice versa, if you work on, if you go on site and you've got colleagues around you, you don't want anything happening to you. You don't want anything happening to them either. So whether you're young or older, you should be able to have the confidence to go and talk to blokes about safety because we know how important that is in your work life.

And the last question, what is one of your skills assets that you bring to safety? I think it's the range of understanding the repercussions if you don't do it right. I've spoken through a number of things, both in my football experience of what I'd been through, what my teammates had been through, and I know the consequences on the football field. So I can talk to people in regards to what happens if we don't look after ourselves. And then with the story of Ben, that's a given. You see what's happened to someone like that at a young age, fit, strong, ready to go. And then you see what happened to him for that space during his time. So learning, listening, understanding what could go wrong. That's how you can sort of tell your story along the way and hopefully people sit up and listen.

That's it. I've got to say thank you very much for your time. Much appreciated. Thank you for listening through my journey of football, but also through the industry and how important workplace safety is because you don't want to see any of your friends, your colleagues, go through what Jordan did in football, but also what Ben had been through. So make sure you stay safe and thank you very much for your time. Cheers.

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