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SLC 2019: How Workplace Injuries Affect the Family

Nov. 7, 2019
Lee Shelby presented his story at the 2019 Safety Leadership Conference in Texas.

When strained, relationships are like a rubber band. They stretch until the snap.

Lee Shelby told attendees of the 2019 Safety Leadership Conference about the workplace accident that changed his and his family's lives.

“All [children] know is that their mom and dad walked out of the house and came back home, and they weren’t the same...Families will remember this for the rest of their lives," the former power lineman explained.

On August 12, 1991, Shelby was working for a utility company in Memphis, Tenn. He had just left a safety meeting and set out to work on distribution power lines. Shortly after, a line Shelby cut made contact with his body, causing 13,000 volts of electricity to enter his body.

"If you can imagine what it was like, it was chaos," he said. "At the blink of an eye, all it took was a split second for that accident to happen."

Shelby's coworkers rushed to save his life, which had been altered at that time forever. The decision he made to not wear rubber gloves and to use a shortcut, or to break a safety rule, cost him his hands. The lineman had six surgeries in five days. Participating in occupational therapy to relearn essential functions was his new job. He was now a bilateral below-the-elbow amputee.

For that point on, Shelby would never be able to feel his wife's face. His daughter never knew her father with hands and faced questions from kids at school. 

"I gave [my hands] up because I made a conscious decision to break a safety rule," he said. 

Safety leaders need to educate workers to understand the impact of workplace injuries and why they need to do it themselves because safety leaders cannot be standing over their shoulders. It's about making employees listen for the right reasons and committing to participating in safe practices no matter what.

Families don't ask for the additional responsibilities that come with an injured or disabled worker. Shelby told the audience that it's unfair to them and the effects of a workplace injury should not be thrown on children.

"I never want to see this happen to another person," Shelby said.

About the Author

Stefanie Valentic

Stefanie Valentic was formerly managing editor of EHS Today, and is currently editorial director of Waste360.

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