Michael Garrels: Safety advocate
Michael Garrels is a Workplace Health and Safety Queensland Safety Advocate.
Michael’s son Jason was just 20 years old when he died at a construction site in Clermont in 2012. He had only been working there for nine days.
Michael visits Queensland businesses as a Safety Advocate to highlight what it’s like to lose a child to a preventable workplace incident. Michael raises awareness of the importance of workplace safety and the need for effective communication between sub-contractors on construction sites, and appropriate supervision and supportive mentoring of young workers.
The old and wiser should be looking after the young and inexperienced, and for the younger guys who are doing a job, if you don’t know – ask. If you’re left unsupervised and don’t know how to do a task, ask to be supervised, it’s as simple as that.
With the rapidly developing situation of the COVID-19 in Australia we have decided to postpone upcoming Safety Advocate bookings. We apologise for any inconvenience. Thank you for your support of the program. Any Safety Advocate enquiries can be directed to email@example.com
Jason’s story takes a confronting and honest look into the heartache of losing a son and a mate to a preventable workplace incident.
You know, imagine being at work, hearing someone's been injured and going to help...because you're a senior educator... and to find it's your son.
You know, you're never gonna see his grandchildren, you're never gonna meet his wife. I really miss being a Mum to Jason.
He's just an easy going, fun loving kid and he was just 20 years old which isn't...you're kind of just coming into your own straps, you're own confidence, what you really want out of life I think.
He was a loving big brother but he was always a leader in something they shouldn't have been doing.
He was a larrikin, no doubt about it.
He use to love his car, the Commodore. He used to lap around in it, drive real slow at 30 km/h down town.
He'd get himself into trouble but it was all harmless fun, you know? He was just a good kid to have around.
He umm, probably was too trusting.
He was definitely too trusting. Unfortunately I think that, you know, aided things to happen around him that lead to his death.
He was looking for work. Looking around and he managed to come upon this job. Christ, I wish he hadn't taken it.
He never even got his first paycheque, he was only there for 9 days.
It was 81 townhouses. I think at the time of Jason's death they probably had around 40 built at that stage.
The electrical on that site was very, very ordinary.
I had said to him, "Do you know, mate? If it's dodgy it is not worth your life". He said "It's going to be ok, Mum. They're gonna fix it up". But they never did.
It had been a wet year as well which didn't help. The site had just water on it everywhere. There was open trenches left, right and centre. They were ankle deep in mud in the good areas.
I was on the excavator and yeah, I think Jason and a couple of labourers, they were on the ground. We'll just clean up for the moment to make the site look responsible for when Work Place Health and Safety turn up but things went wrong there.
And the machine operator said "Could you boys just take the board out from underneath that frame so I can backfill up to it please?"
Yeah. I just asked Clayton to move the board out of - out of the road. Jason was just hanging on to the box. And then the cables come out. Like they should be locked in the box, and - but they weren't. They just come out and they just lighted the whole - the whole box up mate.
Jason had about three to five seconds of full electricity in him.
He walked away - like walked away from it, fell to the ground after about 10 metres.
The ambulance could only get to within 100 metres of Jason. This is a four wheel drive ambulance designed for that country. So - Jason was basically left for a while. Then, the ambulance officer having to walk so far, and because of the state of the site, she couldn't really use the best of her equipment. So they had to get him on a stretcher and then carry him all the way back to the bloody ambulance.
So on that day I was in Clermont. Part of my role as the senior nurse educator is to keep up my clinical skills, and also make sure that I can also aid in any kind of scenario. Bec had actually answered her phone, and she said "Oh my God, someone's been electrocuted," So, um, drove there, hopped out, and as I'm walking into the hospital I get another phone call from Rebecca, and she said "Lee, it's Jason."
You know, I - I'm Jason's father, I'm meant to be the protector. I didn't do a good job here did I?
It was just like a black cloud had covered Clermont that day. I think a lot of people wanted answers, how and why this happened to one of our young people and nobody really knew.
It's hard. You grow up with him your whole life and then one day you wake up and he's gone, hey. You've lost a best mate. You've lost a brother.
Your normalisation for your family goes.
Every time we sit at the table, that's, um - you know, when you - all's you can do is light a candle for a person to represent them.
I experienced severe PTS. I used to get these adrenalin rushes that were just like - my hands would just shake. I have no control over them. If I started getting flashbacks about with Jason in the resus room, I'd - it's like I was drowning.
I have been trying to put the blame on myself, and everyone tells me it's - it wasn't, "It was an accident Jason". You know what I mean? "It wasn't your fault." Yeah I was pretty messed up for about 12 months. I was seeing a psychiatrist and I used to be on medication, trying to keep my anxiety down and trying to sleep. I did turn to - turn to the bottle, and did drink a lot to get the images out of my head. I lost my marriage over it.
The workers that I'm aware of that witness the incidents themselves generally are never the same. Quite often they can't return to that industry if they can return to work at all. And they have ongoing psychological issues re-living it - thinking "What if?", "What could I have done to prevent it?" and feeling responsible for it. So it has a life-long consequence.
It's just been quite shattering and have to find some normality.
Jason has never been shown a worth by the people who were instrumental in his death. So the only - the only real people that can portray that worth and make sure that that worth is at least exposed is the family, you know. And it's not an easy thing to do, but for me you have a duty to do it, that's it. Something funny happens, you always think of him. Something - there's a million things - a million times a day that - that you think - yeah. Like to tell him this, like to see that, da, da, da, da. That's just - that won't stop. It's so stupid. It could have all been easily avoided.
You don't get killed doing what Jason was doing so I knew someone had done something badly wrong.
The whole site was a safety issue - eh. You couldn't tell the boss that. You're there to do your job, mate.
And what should have happened is, the earth leakage should have tripped and that would have saved Jason. But all that was there was this main switch and the only thing that blew were two transformer fuses.
And once I got on site - yeah - she's pretty wet. They should have shut the site down. A lot of people didn't know how to do CPR onsite, that's the worst thing about it. But there was one bloke there that tried to help him, he got a bit of water out of him but then his eyes started rolling back and yeah - it wasn't good, mate. But people out there going to the big job sites like that, it's just have your conscience and look around and - yeah, there's something - something wrong. Speak up and - and tell someone and - if no one won't listen, go to the next person and - and get the matters dealt with. If we don't fix it this is what happens - yeah - someone can die like Jason.
Fatalities and incidents are generally not one thing. They're generally a series of contributing factors that lead to an incident. And in this case those contributing factors were extremely preventable. A lot of young people don't feel comfortable speaking up about safety issues whether they're intimidated by the culture in the workplace or whether they feel by speaking up they may potentially lose their job. They should be empowered by their workplace - by their employer - for there to be a safety net and supervision and for other people to identify the risks with them and teach them about hazard identification and risk management.
Well, housekeeping is key. If you've got your housekeeping sorted out it can remove a lot of other risks. Mainly slips, trips and falls. But in the event of an emergency and we have to evacuate people or we have to get emergency services in - if your housekeeping is substandard it'll affect your ability to do that in a timely manner. And also, following all the rest of their duties - carrying out due diligence, insuring there's safe access, insuring power is isolated when it's being located. One of the keys to having good safety when you've got multiple contractors on site - and let's face it, that's every construction project - is clearly defined roles and responsibilities for persons entering that workplace - so everyone's aware of what those expectations are. I'd say a young worker starting in our industry - there should be no time limit on educating and making sure they feel comfortable doing the tasks that we ask of them.
[End of Transcript]
RUN TIME: 13 mins 09 sec
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Queensland businesses can request a Safety Advocate to visit a workplace, free of charge.
A Safety Advocate will attend your event – whether it’s your regular safety meeting, toolbox talk or annual staff BBQ – to speak to workers, supervisors and managers about the importance of safety in the workplace.
Safety Advocates share their personal stories of trauma and tragedy to compel workers and employers to think about the most important reason for workplace safety.
If your workplace could benefit from a visit from Michael or one of our other Safety Advocates, make a request and we'll be in touch.
Our Safety Advocates are not qualified inspectors and are not able to provide specific safety advice for your business, nor guidance on compliance with work health and safety or electrical safety laws.
If you need assistance in these areas, please call 1300 362 128 and ask about our Injury Prevention and Management program, or visit worksafe.qld.gov.au.
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- Last updated
- 17 August 2020