August 28, 1995. It’s a date that changed my best friend’s life forever. It was almost 11 pm on a hot, humid summer evening. I was young and cocky, so when the phone rang that late on a work night I turned to my roommate and said “somebody better be dead if we’re getting a call this late.” On the other end of the line was my best friend’s mom. She was calling to inform me that Kelly, the person I got in so much trouble with since elementary school, somebody I consider a brother, was lying in a hospital bed and might not make it through the night.
Like many college students, Kelly Johnson took a summer job that would provide him with a few dollars to get through the next academic year. That particular summer he took a job in Nevada working in the gold mines. After accepting the job, the company that hired him gave him a test to see if he could drive an industrial water truck through a series of cones on flat concrete. This was their test and training. He had never driven anything larger than a F150 prior to his test, but he passed. So, with that “extensive” training in the books they decided that he should be driving water trucks the size of my house on narrow switchbacks. Worse, they had him working on a developmental mine where the roads were still undeveloped.
About 8 pm that evening one of the tires on the truck that Kelly was driving slid off the side of the switchback. As the water shifted the ground gave way. When the truck started to go over the edge of the switchback, the seatbelt in the truck broke and after being bounced around the cab a few times Kelly was tossed from the cab. When he finally came to a stop rolling down the hill, just like a cliché Hollywood movie script, Kelly watched as the truck started tumbling down the hill toward him. By the grace of God it landed on and slid down two 10-foot long metal pipes that bridged the side hill to the road. If Kelly had not landed between them he would have been a “grease spot” (his words) on the side of the mountain. Still, his body was crushed and mangled in ways that are unimaginable.
The entire accident was avoidable. Let’s be frank. As summer help, Kelly never should have been put into a position where he was driving a vehicle he had limited experience with in such a dangerous setting. The company he worked for got away with it because it was private property. In a perfect world somebody else with proper training and credentials would have been driving that truck that evening. We don’t live in a perfect world, though. A job needed to get done, and Kelly, always the good soldier, agreed to do his part in getting that job done.
Agriculture is full of dangerous jobs. Statistically speaking, we’re about to enter a time of year where we see a large spike in work-related injuries on the farm and ranch. A relatively high percentage of these accidents happen to seasonal workers. Many are new to the farm and the task at hand. It’s an extremely busy time and proper training may not occur. It needs to, because everything can change in a second.
The task may seem simple, but the potential cost to your employee’s health, your worker’s comp premiums and your emotional health will be affected. Accidents are going to happen regardless, but isn’t an extra hour of your time in training better than the ramifications of an untrained worker hurting themselves, or others, on the farm?
Kelly survived this horrific incident. It took years of physical therapy, and I suspect if he’s honest with himself he’d admit that he’s still dealing with some of the mental monsters from that day. If you were to walk past him on the sidewalk tomorrow, though, you’d have no idea the trauma he’s been through. He still has many physical limitations, but he’s married with three amazing children, works in IT for one of the largest charitable organizations in the Northwest and is an active member of his community. He’s an inspiration to me.
His story is one reason our partnership with SAIF is so critical to me. More important than the savings you may receive on your worker’s comp premiums by being a member of ABC, our partnership with SAIF allows us to provide safety education to our members. We’ll never know how many lives that may help, but every minute – every penny – is worth it if it helps one person. As the busy harvest season approaches, I simply ask you to be safe and have a productive summer.