Survival stories are a magnet for many and I am no exception. Whether they be stories of people who escaped death by seconds in the World Trade Center, shipwrecked sailors who spent weeks on a life raft, or cancer survivors who prevailed, there's something inspiring and fascinating about the indomitable will to survive against all odds. But no prior accounts quite prepared me for the utterly gruesome story of Dave Holland's survival of a work-related accident. Be warned, unless you are a physician or someone similarly inured to severe injuries, his story of being scalped by an industrial drill is a difficult read.
Three years on, sleep still comes uneasily. His head hits the pillow and he flashes back: Caught up in the spinning and metallic screaming and the wet cracklepop sound of tearing flesh. The coppery tang of blood. The thing dragging him closer. The fear and the pain.Beyond the sheer horror of his story, the article resonated on many levels: the medical miracle that was his survival; the window into the fierce will to live that kept him alive; the detailed account of the steep toll of an industrial accident, both when it occurs and in the aftermath; and the case history of post traumatic stress disorder. In reading this, it's also hard not to wonder about his co-workers. How does one return to the workplace after witnessing an event of this kind? How does one get over the fear of the environment?
Dave's survival may make him unique, but an injury of this nature is unfortunately not unique. I recall sharing a table with claims managers at an insurance trade event a number of years ago, and losing my appetite as they exchanged stories of "worst claims" cases they'd handled, such as scalpings and deglovings. Machine-related injuries are commonly recorded as caught or crushed injuries or the more prosaic contact with objects and equipment. These types of accidents result in about 18% of all work fatalities each year, as well as tens of thousands of injuries that do not result in death, such as Dave's.
In reading other reports of "caught or crushed" injuries, there are some recurring themes: The worker is often working alone. The worker often wasn't trained to use the equipment, or hadn't been alerted to the dangers. The worker was often young. The equipment often didn't have safeguards, or sometimes those safeguards had been manually overridden by either worker or boss. Hair and loose clothing were often the first point of contact. Ponytails and braids are particularly troublesome - a few strands may give way, but a thick plait that is caught could well be a death sentence.
There's not a lot more to say beyond what Dave's story already imparts: workers, be safe - speak up if you have unease or need training, and don't work with hazardous equipment while alone. Employers, ensure that your workers are safe - you don't want a Dave Holland on your conscience.