Work Accident

Sandy Says: Live Like You’re Dying

Serious injuries, illness and death occur with no warning…or do they?

We’ve all seen the movies. The star of the film develops some kind of fatal disease and decides to fulfill wishes and dreams and live every day to the fullest. But what if the universe doesn’t deliver the message that we have limited time with our loved ones, that the clock is ticking on fulfilling our “bucket lists?”

This point was driven home to me with a Facebook post. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found out about marriages, divorces, the diagnosis of serious illnesses, new jobs, births and deaths on Facebook. Important information that once required a letter or at least, a phone call, now seems to be a couple of clicks away from being disseminated to the entire world.

A couple of days ago, a friend posted that he “was done.” It was a cryptic post from someone who generally is a positive person. As he is in Singapore and most of his friends and family are in the United States, people were worried about him.

This friend is special. Did I mention the positive attitude? He was in his 20s when a drunk driver crashed into his car and left him for dead. He recovered and thrived. At 40, he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma that no one expected him to survive, but he did. He not only survived it, he bounced back so full of life that now it’s a few years later and most of us had forgotten he was sick.

A second Facebook post, thanking people for reaching out, explained what was going on. He left work early on a Friday, coughing and generally feeling like he was catching a cold. He took some cold medicine and took a nap…for two weeks! He woke up in the ICU unit and found out that he had been discovered on the floor of his hotel room in Singapore on the Monday after he went home sick. He didn’t show up for work and his co-workers were alarmed and contacted the hotel.

When he arrived at the hospital, he was unconscious and in renal failure and was placed on a ventilator. They thought he had extensive brain damage, because his oxygen levels were so low when he arrived at the hospital. He wrote on Facebook, “But, after a couple of weeks, in my typical fashion, I rolled over one day, came to life and started talking (I was bat**** crazy, but talking).”

He has recovered and has been discharged from the hospital and soon will be returning to the United States. Saying, “I know there is something that I’m supposed to learn from all this,” he added, “I’m not sure where life or work is, or where it is going.”

While he didn’t collapse at work, it easily could have happened. He started showing symptoms of illness while at work. When I first started out in my career, a copy editor in his early 40s suffered a heart attack and died while at work. It happens every day in workplaces across the country.

And then there are the incidents that occur because of equipment, attention or training failures; unsafe working conditions; or unsafe behaviors and choices. These remove family members and friends from our lives some 4,500 times a year. A dozen workers a day don’t come home.

There was a New York construction worker who returned to a worksite to pick up something he forgot and got stuck in an elevator. In a hurry to get home to his son’s birthday party, he exited the elevator and tried to climb out onto a floor and was crushed when the elevator restarted. A worker recently died when a conveyor belt unexpectedly started up. Another died when a crane struck power lines.

These incidents are all tragic and all preventable. Through training, hazard awareness and elimination, safety management, leadership attention and employee engagement in safety, the vast majority of workplace incidents can be avoided and 4,500 more workers a year can go home to their friends and families. Unlike what happened to my friend, there WAS a warning at many of these workplaces that something disastrous could occur, whether it was previous serious or egregious OSHA citations for similar issues or ongoing safety concerns expressed by employees or managers.

As my friend told me, “It is so important to live every day as your last, to enjoy each and every experience. I think that might be what I’m missing.”

I’m just glad we’re not missing him, and I feel sorry for the 4,500 families a year who lose loved ones to work-related incidents.

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