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Health-LiveI was crushed, severely injured, and nearly killed in a conveyor belt accident....AMA!

Feb 12th 2018 by DC4MVP • 30 Questions • 2374 Points

On May 25, 2016, I was sitting on and repairing an industrial conveyor belt. Suddenly, the conveyor belt started up and I went on a ride that changed my life forever.

I spent 16 days in the hospital where doctor's focused on placing a rod and screws into my left arm (which eventually became infected with MRSA and had to be removed) and to apply skin grafts to areas where I had 3rd degree burns from the friction of the belt.

To date, I have had 12 surgeries with more in the future mostly to repair my left arm and 3rd degree burns from the friction of the belts.

The list of injuries include:

-Broken humerus -5 shattered ribs -3rd degree burns on right shoulder & left elbow -3 broken vertebrae -Collapsed lung -Nerve damage in left arm resulting in 4 month paralysis -PTSD -Torn rotator cuff -Torn bicep tendon -Prominent arthritis in left shoulder

Here are some photos of the conveyor belt:

The one I was sitting on when it was turned on: https://i.imgur.com/4aGV5Y2.jpg

I fell down below to this one where I got caught in between the two before I eventually broke my arm, was freed, and ended up being sucked up under that bar where the ribs and back broke before I eventually passed out and lost consciousness from not being able to breathe: https://i.imgur.com/SCGlLIe.jpg

REMEMBER: SAFETY FIRST!

Q:

Holy shit, am currently training as an engineering technician and there's a possibility I may end up doing repair/maintenance work like this. We have a teacher who has tons of stories like this.

Question one: Any idea how the belt sprang to life? Wasn't there a LOTO?

Question two: Are you a lefty or a righty? How do you imagine yourself adapting to life without the arm?

A:
  1. A temp employee with the company started it up without checking to see if I was on it. One of the big problems is that LOTO took WAYYYYY too much time. Usually, the guy starting the belt (who was gone that day) didn't take eyes off me as I was on it. Well, nobody trained the new guy.

So we failed with LOTO and training

  1. Luckily I'm a righty. The arm is probably going to max out at about 70% normal. My elbow can only bend 115-120 degrees and even that required a surgery to improve it from 90 degrees to the 115-120. I can BARELY touch my face now.

As for the pain....it is what it is! I'm "only" 29 right now and my surgeon is already saying I'll have a full shoulder replacement. We're hoping I'll make it to my 40's before that happens. Obviously WAYYYYYY to young still!


Q:

LOTO took WAYYYYY too much time

Ah, yes. The old 12 surgeries later shortcut.

A:

Yep. Short cuts kill. Never take the easy way.


Q:

I guess what immediately comes to mind, not having been there, are more questions about how it happened.

Past LOTO,

When this machine started up, wasn't there an emergency stop? Did the temp just not hear you?

How long did the accident last? Was it just a few seconds?

Isn't there a breaker you can pull before working on these things?

Why isn't there a safety mechanism along the track to shut it off or a grille to stop very large objects falling in?

And finally: How many colors of the rainbow were you simultaneously, and how did you go on to also survive daytime TV during your recovery?

A:
  1. No emergency stop at the time (There are now) and was about 75 feet from the temp. Combine that with the amount of noise in the building, nobody heard me.

  2. I still don't know to be honest! I'd say 30 seconds? Nobody saw it happen and there's no cameras. It felt like forever, though!

  3. Yeah there's a full shut down panel. Just took too much time to do it (Short cuts kill.....)

  4. There actually is a screener that prevents anything larger than 2" from falling down into the belts buuuuuuut I was on the belt where the small stuff (dirt and gravel) lands on.

  5. Too many to count and DVR and Netflix saved my ass! I watched A LOT of My 600-lb life and A LOT of Scrubs!

Between my time is the hospitals and Scrubs, I'm pretty sure I could ace the MCATS. Call me Dr. Acula....drop the period and smush it all together!


Q:

tangential question: what's your favorite episode of scrubs? i ask bc that show saved my husband's sanity while he was recovering from surgery for two broken heels and a shattered spine, and also bc it's one of my favorites.

A:

Jesus....

I like the one where Turk and J.D. scrap their steak night and spend the night with the guy dying. It makes me cry every time.

I also like the finale (season 9 doesn't exist to me), when Cox' brother-in-law dies and when Tracy's organs gives the recipients rabies and Cox loses it.


Q:

I have worked in industry since out of high school. Never should the words LOTO and too much time ever be used in the same sentence.

Now in my 30's I manage a team and we apply and remove LOTO on a daily basis. This is the most important part of the job and even if it delays work by hours we will not release equipment until we are sure it is safe.

As much as the company is responsible you are responsible yourself for ensuring your own protection. Personal lockout devices are there so you have control when equipment is re-enegized and not a moment sooner. Over my near 20 years in industry I have seen many people terminated due to improper lockout practices.

A:

It was dumb.

The sad thing is....I knew better. I worked under MSHA for 6 years prior and conveyor belts for those 6 years.

I didn't speak up and say "Yeah umm....if we're not doing this, I'm not getting on those belts." I was with the company 3-4 weeks and didn't want to make waves.

My own fault.


Q:

Did the company admit liability? How did the belt get turned on?

A:

A temp employee who wasn't trained turned it on. So we didn't use any LOTO.

I honestly don't know how the liability thing works but there were a lot of failures from the company, my boss, and myself. Pretty much boils down to improper training of employees, no LOTO (lock out, tag out) and I've been working around conveyors my entire career in heavy equipment....I knew better.

I don't blame anyone. Just a bad series of mistakes from a lot of people.


Q:

You need to talk to a lawyer.

A:

I have one on retainer.


Q:

Please delete this post now. No liability should be on you.

A:

Thanks but I'm allowed to speak about it since OSHA finished up whatever they had to do.


Q:

How is your PTSD? I feel like getting over the trauma would be one of the hardest parts.

A:

You know, I was too afraid to admit that's what I was going through. I felt it was something that soldiers get seeing their buddies die or getting shot or blown up. I didn't see any of the stuff they do so, in a way, I felt like I was unworthy of it. If that makes any sense?

I'd shut the TV off to go to bed at, say, 11:00pm. Then I'd replay the accident over and over and over in my mind until I'd look at the clock and it's say 2:30am. Just non-stop until I passed out.

And apparently I was screaming in my sleep and kept saying "PAUL! PAUL!" in my sleep as he would be the guy closest to where I was stuck in the conveyor.

I eventually went to a psychologist and with the help of EMDR, I was able to over-come MOST of my troubles. There's times I'll still think about it for a minute or two and I've cried a few times thinking about it but 1-2 times a week is better than dwelling on it day after day.


Q:

Glad you survived and hope you are well! Have you found a new profession or had an awakening in your life after being so close to death?

A:

I actually went back to doing what I was doing this past December. (I'm a heavy equipment operator....so I operate life size Tonka trucks) I made it about a week or so full-time before my shoulder gave out on my and I tore my rotator cuff even more.

My surgeon told me I'll never go back to physical work after that mainly due to the arthritis being so bad at age 29. So we'll see what happens in a couple months when I heal up from this latest surgery.

Either the company can put me in an office type gig or I was tinking about going back to school for Construction Project Management.


Q:

or I was tinking about going back to school for Construction Project Management.

You will need to get something to hold the clip board up so you can angerly look at the job site and write stuff down.

Because thats all I do

A:

I joke around with buddies and say "I'll be the guy the equipment operators call an idiot and say I don't know what I'm doing!"

Believe me....I've said it myself 300-400 times in my 10 year career!


Q:

I hope you have a couple of gnarly scars that you could show off when someone says you don't know what you're doing.

"Damn right I didn't, and this is what I got!"

A:

My whole right arm is basically a scar lol. I had a large tattoo on my upper right shoulder and that got burnt up pretty bad and the skin graft went over the tattoo so it's pretty funky looking!


Q:

Battle scars.

A:

Chicks dig em?


Q:

I almost wonder whether you might be a great candidate for doing industrial safety training. You would be Exhibit A not just physically but would be able to share your experience as a cautionary tale. Is that something you've considered?

A:

Once I get out of this sling, I was invited to speak at my alma matter to the incoming heavy equipment program students.

It'll be a great honor and hopefully they'll learn that it can happen to them to.


Q:

What amount of worker’s compensation did you receive? I’m always curious about what insurance pays out in cases like these.

A:

Worker's comp pays for all my medical bills including travel.

I also get a weekly check which is 67% of my average paychecks before I got hurt. On the bright side, I was only with the company a month before the injury so I was a bit slower doing my job and racked up a lot of hours a week (60-65) .


Q:

Pro Tip: Get info on time limits. Specifically if you are on Short Term Disability, and they try to move you on to Long Term Disability. My company tried that, offering a higher biweekly payout, so that they wouldn't have to pay me a portion of the quarterly and yearly bonuses, making it actually LESS money.

A:

Worker's Comp differs from regular health insurance. Worker's comp will last until every doctor clears me and I'm able to work a full 40-hour week whenever that may be.


Q:

Didn’t your company mandate a lock out/tag out procedure before work was to start?

A:

Not really. It just took wayyyyy to much time for me to get out of my excavator, climb around to the control panel, LOTO, climb back down, get the debris out of the conveyor, climb back up to the LOTO, climb back down, and climb back up to my excavator

This would happen 3-4 times an hour where I would have to grab something out of the belts so wasting 20-25 minutes an hour would destroy our production and essentially shut a huge portion of our business down.

We still don't LOTO but there's 3 different people keeping eyes on the excavator operator at all times while the guy at the controls starts it up when all 3 guys and myself tell him to.

As we know....short cuts kill and it almost got me killed.


Q:

Your company might not mandate it but OSHA and MSHA sure as hell do.

A:

Oh yes. And since the accident, it's a major safety point with our branch of the company.

They lost a few hundred thousand dollars from it.


Q:

I love how you’re basically saying “yeah LOTO is a waste of time”.

There’s a reason for it. Your company sucks for not mandating it / not firing people (you) for not using it.

A:

It's not a waste of time. Heck no. That's just what we all thought AT THE TIME.

I was new with the company (3 weeks) and was essentially afraid to speak up and change how the company has done things for 20 years.


Q:

Was this in a box factory? Were you nearly turned into a box? To ship nails?

A:

One of the best Simpsons episodes ever.


Q:

So what is OSHA's take on all of this? Who/what was found at fault?

A:

The company was fined and safety measures were changed. The guy who started the belt either quit or was fired that day.


Q:

How do you feel towards that guy? Were you angry at him? Even if it's not strictly only his fault, did you instinctively blame him?

A:

I honestly never met him or saw him. He was only with the company 3 days and was in a completely different area than me.

I don't blame him at all. He didn't do it on purpose. He wasn't trained properly and I didn't do my job of LOTO.


Q:

Would you say your life is getting back on track, or did you go completely off the rails?

A:

Besides not being able to work after this latest surgery on Jan 24, things are pretty much normal now.


Q:

What exactly is LOTO for Normie's who don't play on conveyer belts regularly?

A:

Lock Out, Tag Out.

Whoever is on a piece of machinery is supposed to put a lock on the shut off switch and only they have the key to unlock it.


Q:

I work around industrial machinery all the time. It is so easy for these types of things to happen. Even taking so many precautions it is still dangerous.

Did you think you were gonna die before you passed out? What were your final thoughts?

A:

It still haunts me to this day....

Once I knew I couldn't breath anymore I said to myself "Huh....so this is how I die?" and I remember thinking about the phone call my parents were going to get that their son died at work.

Brings tears to my eyes just typing it! Haha.


Q:

What do you think you'll be doing after you're discharged from the hospital?

A:

The accident happened "way back" on May 25, 2016. The initial days at home were pretty painful and...well...boring. I was pretty much confined to a recliner in the living room all day. Getting up only to wash up and shower (with assistance of course).

A lot of rehab followed mainly on my arms and weekly visits to the burn center to get my burns healed up.


Q:

Why did you decide to do an AMA? It must be hard to talk to strangers about your trauma.

A:

Mainly to get my feelings out there and to talk about it. I feel it helps the process.

Also, I do hope somebody reads this and learns from my mistakes.


Q:

Damn :(.

How was it having to learn to jerk off with your other hand ?

A:

I was actually a lefty jerker....

Doing it with my right was a whole different experience!


Q:

Where abouts do you live if you don't mind me asking? I work in a mine as a fitter and work on conveyors nearly every day and as part of our morning meetings we have safety alerts, could quite possibly have had this come up at some stage.

A:

Minnesota.

Tell your co-workers about this. LOTO NEEDS to happen.


Q:

So...did you fix the conveyor belt?

A:

I got about 50% done. Wire was caught up into it. Didn't cut through all of it in time.