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Building bridges – Jed's story

Safety Advocates

Jed Millen had been in the construction industry for close to 20 years when he fell five metres from a bridge that collapsed without warning.

An accumulation of avoidable mistakes resulted in a serious spinal injury and caused years of physical and emotional pain for him and his family and friends.

Building bridges – Jed's story is a poignant reminder of the importance of communication, coordination and leadership when it comes to safety in the workplace.

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Your business can apply for Jed or another of Queensland's Safety Advocates to attend your event and share their story to increase awareness and influence behaviour change, free of charge.

ANDREW: The construction industry is a very dangerous industry. It has unique risks which aren't in other industries. Our workplace is changing all the time; it's extending in different directions. Something that was solid today may not be solid tomorrow. And each one of those changing environments, changes the risk.

CAROLINE: Jed was a very happy young man. Apart from the fact probably that he had a house full of women.

SAM: Very outgoing, very willing to turn his hand at anything and to help anybody out.

CARLY: Very positive. Always a very good attitude. Always having a lot of fun.

JED: Life was full of laughs and jokes and, and putting one on each other.

CAROLINE: Jed was an active young man, involved in sport, liked to play golf, certainly loved his rugby. A very hard worker.

JED: Being a rigger, I was always very active working at heights, climbing. I loved it. Big machinery. Big toys. You got to see the countryside. Everything was going Mickey Mouse.

ANDREW: He saw that he was going to be in the construction industry for the rest of his working life.

JED: Nineteen and three quarter years, in the industry. Only takes a sec and your life's changed.

GENERAL TITLE SLIDE – "Building bridges: The Jed Millen story"

JED: The day was just another normal day where we usually rocked up at night time. It's still very early in the morning. And our job was to demolish a bridge and then rebuild the bridge with new beams. There was two doggers and a crane driver and usually at the beginning of the day, you flip coins on who's going to receive and who's going to unattach. I won't say I lost when we flipped the coin but it was my job to go up top. Hooking up and the guy on the bottom would be landing it on the back of semi-trailers so that it could be taken away. And it was a simple case of getting the crane driver to try and unwedge this central piece of the bridge.The boilermakers' job was to continue on cutting the deck so it could fall to the ground. There was so much mayhem going on and chaos and confusion because the piece of steel that we were trying to cut out wasn't coming out and we had a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between contractors on how we were going to get this piece of steel out.

ANDREW: There was about six tonne of concrete and steel hung up in the air that opened up like a trapdoor which Jed slid down.

JED: There was no warning. There was no creaking, groaning, moaning. It just dropped. Yeah, you pick up a bit of speed after five metres, hitting the ground. But it takes so long to get there. And I quickly look up and it was just like a hangman's trapdoor. I've just come straight through, ahh, bounced off the ground and tried to crawl away. And I became really, really angry because I wasn't in control. Someone had taken the control away from me. One of the first perceptions of surviving the accident was I didn't say goodbye to my family this morning. And that hurt, that really hurt, because ahhh, this could've been different. Get into the hospital And of course the dreaded 'When you ring my wife, tell her I'm alright'.

SAM: And I said: "Ok, now tell me what you mean by he's alright?" "Oh, he's in an ambulance", and that's when I went into a panic mode.

CARLY: I don't know how, but he wasn't in hospital for very long. Despite the injuries, it was felt that he would be better at home.

SAM: Straight after the accident, you could see that there was clearly something wrong.

CARLY: I remember watching him walk into the house and the pain on his face had aged him 10 years, in a day.

CAROLINE: After this, the whole world for all of us came crashing down.

JED: The initial impacts of my accident, the biggest one was physical. The simplest way the doctor's explained what happened to my back and so I could show the kids, was he just got a can. Because of the fall to the left, I've bent my back and I've twisted it about 45 degrees to my left. I'm very fortunate that it's my upper back and not my lower back, because I can still walk properly. Wasn't able to do nothing to start off with.

CAROLINE: Waking up in the morning was an effort. Sam would have to help him out of his bed.

CARLY: Yeah, she became a caretaker for him. And it was very hard work.

JED: It put a lot of pressure on my wife that she had to do a lot of things. Lot of extra things that I wasn't able to do.

SAM: I haven't had to feed him but just maintaining and making sure that he's comfortable and doing that without stepping over those boundaries of making him feel like as if he's helpless.

JED: It was very frustrating. From being active to non-active is really hard. You can't even do simple things around the house. You can't make the bed. You can't mow the lawn.

CARLY: He couldn't pick up his daughter. Even when his youngest daughter was born, in December, when, and she came out premature.

CAROLINE: He would go to the hospital. And he would lie there with this tiny thing. And he said to me I just wonder what I'll be like and be able to be a proper dad for this little girl. And as a mother and a grandmother, that destroyed me. Destroyed me.

JED: So daddy just lied around all day long. Daddy didn't do a real lot, for a couple of weeks, a couple of months. And the kids were confused. What's wrong with dad?

SAM: The difficulty was, oh, you know, Dad's been in an accident, but there's, there's no bandages. Well dad, you know, you could do this yesterday, why can't you do it today? Or, you know, why are you lying down or why are you cranky?

JED: Part of the frustration was, everyone kept doing what they could do. Nothing had changed for them. Just this grumpy old many used to sit in the corner every so often and they knew when to steer clear from dad.

CARLY: You couldn't invite people over. The tension in the house was immense. It, it was overwhelming.

JED: There was probably times there my wife was happy that she was working.

SAM: There were some days that he wasn't nice to live with, but you could see that it was uncomfortable for him.

CARLY: I spent a lot more time at school than I normally would have. I wouldn't come home from school until six o'clock in the evening. And then I'd see how my dad was and how my mum was. And then… I'd nearly hide sometimes, just in the bedroom doing the homework.

CAROLINE: Sam had seen this fit, young, healthy husband turn into somebody that sometimes we didn't know. He was an alien.

CARLY: And you could just see the depression set in. I remember him just sitting in the bedroom and you couldn't talk to him at all.

CAROLINE: He lived on painkillers, he was grumpy, he could not cope with any ongoing laughter and happiness. He looked inward towards himself all the time.

JED: You spend a lot of time lying on bed sleeping, because you just couldn't do anything. That had a big emotional impact on me, because one minute you're active, full on, having a great time, playing sport and next minute it's just, it's gone, just disappeared.

CAROLINE: As much as he tried to continue with his work, his body just would not let him and he had to find an alternative way of making money.

ANDREW: Jed and his whole family have gone through a lot of pain since this incident occurred. They had their whole life mapped out and planned…

JED: For some people it's a real culture shock, one minute you're earning thousands of dollars a week, to earning nothing and one minute I've got a couple of property investments. They're all gone. So for a long time there, we were living on our bones. I ended up taking a job on that I could do physically, and that was a swim coach.

CAROLINE: And he came home after his first group certificate, and I walked into the kitchen and he had his head in his hands and he was crying, and I said: "What's wrong Jed?" And he said: "Mum I don't know whether I can go on, I cannot support my family."

JED: It gets to your ego. It gets to your manly ego, on… on performing as a man,

CAROLINE: So Jed then suffered from this male issue of that I am not capable, as the only man in the house, of supporting my family.

JED: We struggled, we really did struggle. If it wasn't for the family, my immediate family, we wouldn't be where we are today.

ANDREW: The accident could definitely have been prevented by better planning, better communication between the parties.

JED: There was no control, there was no one central figure going: this is how we're going to do it boys, stop, let's look at what we're doing.

ANDREW: When you have these multiple contractors working together, things become uncoordinated. Accidents just don't happen, they're actually caused by a series of often unrelated events, stacking up together to push people from in control to out of control. There has to be clear communications both up and down. The workers have got to be able to come back to the employer and let them know about what issues are on site.

JED: Pre-think before you do something; just don't rush in like a bull at a gate. Stand back and observe what you're doing first.

ANDREW: If you're working out there and you've got a concern, go and ask about it. Don't do it if you don't feel good about it. Find someone who is responsible for that area and talk to them about it.

CAROLINE: Follow what your Workplace Health and Safety guy says because it's your life. It's your life and it continues on to your family's life.

JED: If you don't look after yourself today, you got no hope down the road. No hope. Today, we can still drive around with the family and say I put that bridge there. I put that post there. I helped put that together. I wish I was still there today. I'm proud that I did that job.

SAM: He still has the moments where he wants to excel and be active. Unfortunately, he knows that if he does over exert there is the pain that follows afterwards.

JED: Today it's more about pain management. I know I can get away with certain things if I take pills. And there's other times where the consequences aren't worth it. For argument's sake, on Sunday we spent a whole day at a netball carnival and I had problems yesterday. And I'm a bit low at the moment. Bit down.

CAROLINE: This is never going to be over, for him, for the rest of his life.

CARLY: We'll never be the same as a family ever again.

CAROLINE: There will always have to be compromises as the children grow up. He's going to have great difficulty pushing me in my wheelchair; we'll have to get the grandchildren to do that.

SAM: We now have to live with this and move on.

CARLY: I feel very lucky to have him now as he is. Um, not the same. A little bit different. But he's still my dad.

JED: Things are a lot better now but it's taken a lot of time. Over 10 years to get back on our feet again.Yes, I'm still with the same wife, which is nice. We've been through the thick and thins of it.

SAM: Yeah, he means everything to me …

[End of transcript]