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I love you, Dad – The Dale Kennedy story

Safety Advocates

I love you, Dad – The Dale Kennedy story shares a family's heartbreak after their son's preventable death while working in the ceiling space of a Cairns school.

Debbie and Dan are members of the Consultative committee for work-related fatalities and serious incidents, which was established to ensure there is an ongoing consultative forum for injured workers and families affected by a workplace death, illness or serious incident.

Read more about the committee.

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Dan Kennedy:Something I'll never ever forget. He got up. He was going to leave, so he just hopped up and walked over and give me a kiss, and said 'I love you dad'. He said 'I'll catch up with you later'.

But I never really got to talk to him after that.

Melissa Pisot:Dale was always amongst everything with dad. Always wanting to give him a hand with anything.

Dudley Powell:Severely energetic, and at the same time, very loyal.

Dan Kennedy: He loved riding the horses. We'd go out and muster. We might muster five or six hundred head, and Melissa would hop out in the lead and Dale would take the wing, and away we'd go.

Melissa Pisot: I was very protective of him, and then as he got older he became protective of me.

Tamara Burkin:Dale and I met at a party. When he walked into the room, his smile would light up the room.

Wayne Goggin:We put an ad in for a first year apprentice, and Julie and I sat down and went through it all.

Julie Brocq-Goggin:I saw Dale's name, and I just remember sweeping the rest into the bin and saying to Wayne 'This is the person you want to be your apprentice'.

Melissa Pisot: He always talked about where he wanted to go further once he'd finished his apprenticeship.

Wayne Goggin: He was more competent and more professional than some of the tradesmen I've employed in my business. I had a system going that if they could beat me at my rules and regulations, well I'd put on a carton of beer for the boys. So they were always trying to outsmart the boss. And when Dale beat me one day, my nose got rubbed in it for many months, and if he was alive today he'd still be doing it.

Tamara Burkin: When we found out that I was pregnant, I was already three and a half months.

Debbie Kennedy: They were young parents, so they were a little bit nervous about that, but they were way beyond their years with their maturity. He wanted to be that hands on dad and provider.

Tamara Burkin: He cried when he first saw him. He did everything that a dad should do, changed nappies, fed him.

Rhys Willis:He also went through a bit of a change I think when he had Cooper as well. He was always the larrikin, but he really knuckled down and got serious as soon as Cooper came into the world.

Tamara Burkin: Cooper was his whole world.

Dudley Powell: From day one he was proud of Cooper.

Wayne Goggin: I saw a young man grow up very quickly overnight. He went from a boy to a man.

Tamara Burkin: It was on the Tuesday night he said to me 'What would you do if I asked you to marry me tomorrow? Because tomorrow is the last three even dates for a long time,' and it was the 12th of the 12th of the 12th.

Dan Kennedy: I got a phone call from Dale's boss saying that Dale had been electrocuted and could I get out to Bentley Park College as quick as possible. It took me a while to get there, because in the morning traffic going out. When I got there the media and everybody was at the school. There was ambulances, there was fire brigade. And on the way in, one of Dale's work colleagues was standing there and he had his head hung. He just didn't look at me. And I knew it was bad.

And Dale was laying on the floor of the room covered up with a sheet, and they took the sheet off so that I could sit there and talk to him and give him a cuddle and give him a kiss.

Wayne Goggin: I remember coming into the room after being told that Dale had had an incident. I saw the shock horror on three or four of the school faces that were there. The paramedics were there. And the image I go to bed with every night is the paramedics working on him.

Julie LeBrocq-Goggin: I worked at the school, and I knew that Wayne and Dale and his other workers were there that day. I tried to go into the room where the emergency services were working on Dale. I was begging just to go in and hold his hand. I just wanted to hold his hand.

Debbie Kennedy: And it wasn't until I walked in the office where Dan was that I looked and I thought this can't be good. Because I thought to myself he's going to say two names probably, Melissa or Dale. And then everywhere outside when we were walking, everything was just dark, and the world was grey.

Tamara Burkin: I received the phone call in the morning from Debbie to go over there. Just like my whole body shut off. I thought something was up. And then as I've got out of the car, Dan told me what had happened.

Melissa Pisot: Yeah, I walked in the door, and as soon as I seen everyone I just said 'What's happened to Dale? Where's Dale?' And I pretty much collapsed as they told me what happened.

Dudley Powell: I was just broken and I just cried. I've never ever been so hurt and just destroyed.

Rhys Willis: It's not really a phone call you ever want to get. You don't know what to say. I don't even – it's kind of like what do you mean he's gone?

Melissa Pisot: The first thing I thought when I heard he had died, I was like I just hope that it was quick and he wasn't laying there thinking about Cooper without him.

Dan Kennedy: On that day they arrived at the school, and they were supposed to start on a different building, not that building.

Melissa Pisot: He was working in the ceiling just running cable for a CCTV I think, because the school had been getting broken into. So he wasn't even doing any electrical work.

Dan Kennedy: I think Dale leant against the air-conditioner unit to move his sol board just a bit further, and when he put his hand down on the beam and his back, he got electrocuted through his back.

Dr Christopher Andrew: Electrical injuries, and particularly industrial electrical injuries, are very common. Whether you live or die can't be summed up in one particular little rule or otherwise. It depends on the degree of exposure, the amount of current that passes through the body, where it passes. Let's say someone contacts electric current through their two hands. The current will pass up one arm, through the chest and to the other side, broadly speaking.

The danger there is that it passes very close to the heart, and it can induce heart rhythms which stops its ability to pump blood regularly to the remainder of the body.

Greer Novak:The best way to reduce the risk of electrical incidents in roof spaces is to turn the power off at the switchboard, and make sure no one turns it back on again. However, it's important to remember that by turning off the power at the switchboard, you may not turn off all the sources of power in the roof space. For instance, solar cables and mains cables will remain live even when you have turned off the power at the switchboard, and these risks will need to be controlled.

The Electrical Safety Office also strongly recommended safety switches be fitted on all circuits of domestic, commercial and industrial premises. Sadly, there have been too many electrocutions and serious electrical incidents due to contact with live parts in roof spaces.

Some of the most common causes appear to be pierced cables making metal parts such as roof battens live, cables damaged by vermin, unterminated cables, or faulty equipment. These hazards are difficult to see. Roof spaces can be dark and difficult to navigate. You just don't know what dangers are lurking, so the simple and most effective way to keep workers safer up there is to switch off the power.

Melissa Pisot: You know, sometimes when you lose someone people think you might not want to talk about it, so they don't bring him up. But we'd rather talk about him so he's not just a memory, he's still alive every day.

Debbie Kennedy: It wasn't what you think life was going to be.

Dan Kennedy: It just rips your heart clean out. You just – it changes you. You're just not the same person anymore that you used to be.

Debbie Kennedy: And now we've got a little boy growing up without his father.

Dan Kennedy: When Dale died, the police took all Dale's clothing. They took everything that Dale had on him that day. And it wasn't until a fair while after that I was able to get some of Dale's possessions back, and Dale's phone was one of them. And on that night before Dale died, he took a little video of Cooper.

Dale Kennedy: I love you. (Cooper Kennedy's laughter.)

Dan Kennedy: That's the most precious thing, and it's the only thing that I've got Dale's voice on, and I've listened to it a million times.

Julie LeBrocq-Goggin: When I think about Cooper, I think a lot about Dale, because Cooper's about that age now when I taught Dale.

Tamara Burkin: Like father like son. Cooper was a mirror image of Dale when he was growing up.

Dan Kennedy: As he's getting older now, we can –

Debbie Kennedy: He is asking questions.

Dan Kennedy: He's asking a lot of questions and telling about his dad's mates and all the things that he used to do.

Melissa Pisot: You just have to look at Cooper and I see just different parts of him is Dale. And it's nice. He's still around.

We try and keep Dale's memory alive in many ways. One of the things that we do every year is there's a Skills 360 awards night, and one of the awards that's given out is the Dale Kennedy Award. It goes to an apprentice who shows mateship, works well in a team, aware of safety, like how to keep themselves and others safe at work, a hard worker. Pretty much what Dale was.

Julie LeBrocq-Goggin: My husband organised with his car club to do a big cruise. There were thousands and thousands of people, and we raised a lot of money, over $20,000 for Cooper.

Melissa Pisot: On the first anniversary of Dale's death, we planted a tree in his memory outside the building he was electrocuted in. Every year on his anniversary we can go to and lay flowers or just feel like we're sort of with him for a moment.

Greer Novak: Any worker entering any ceiling space to perform work should turn off the power.

Melissa Pisot: Definitely having such a loving family and supportive family like my mum and dad.

Julie LeBrocq-Goggin: Debbie and Danny, and Melissa, knowing them before Dale passed and then seeing what it did to them, it took a big toll emotionally and physically on them both, and it's only recently we've sort of seen that they've started to live again.

Dale Kennedy: I love you. (Cooper Kennedy's laughter.)

[End of transcript]