|Issue No 74||20 October 2000|
WorkCover Goes For Gold In Paralympics
WorkCover has sponsored three paralympians who were injured in workplace accidents. In turn the athletes will speak about the importance of workplace safety and raise awareness through a number of forums in NSW.
One of the paralympians is the patron of the Labor Council Youthsafe Committee, Heath Francis. Heath recently launched the Youthsafe Committee's resource kit for high schools.
Heath Francis is 18 years old and is already one of Australia's best sprinters in both able bodied and amputee competitions. He is a member of a relay team currently ranked one in the world in the 4 x 400m and 4x 200m. Individually he has achieved a world ranking of two in the 400m sprint. In 1999 he broke the Australian record over 100m, 200m and 400m, was awarded Junior Male Paralympic Athlete of the year and also won the Pierre De Coubertin award for excellence in sport.
Heath was only seven years old when his arm was so badly injured in a meat mincer that doctors decided the best option for him was amputation. The meat mincer was located in the butchery which had been constructed on the family's grazing property.
This was the second trauma for his family. His father was killed in a work-related farming accident before he was born.
"We are so lucky to have Heath. I was only a few weeks pregnant when Heath's father was killed," says his mother, Margaret.
"To then have to deal with Heath's injury, also work-related, when he was so young, was almost too much to bear."
Heath is pleased to have the opportunity participate in a sponsorship program with WorkCover.
Farming properties are unusual in that they serve a dual purpose of workplace and family residence. Their safety systems need to take account of these factors. Children, spouses and visitors need to be protected as paid employees.
"After what's happened to my dad and to me, I'm really keen to have the opportunity of spreading the message on how easily and quickly accidents can happen," Heath said.
"I would really like people to understand the impact accidents have on an individual and the devastating effect they have on work colleagues involved at the time of the accident and on the victim's family."
Heath recently completed his HSC and is currently enrolled in a Bachelor of Business, Bachelor of Commerce degree at Newcastle University. Heath feels that the public speaking engagements he will be undertaking with WorkCover are a great introduction to the working world giving him invaluable experience while undertaking his studies.
Terry Giddy, already a bronze medal winner in shot put, will be competing at his 8th Paralympic Games this year. Terry was 15 years old when he became a paraplegic as a result of a tree felling accident.
Terry, like Heath, realises that his accident was not only a personal tragedy - it also had an enormous effect on his family. Terry's father and grandfather's livelihood was tree felling but from the day of Terry's accident, neither man ever stepped foot in the forest again.
Married for 22 years, Terry has three stepsons, a grandson and, as of early this year, a granddaughter.
Terry runs his own gymnasium that he has opened to the people of Kempsey. Both able bodied and people with disabilities train with Terry at his gym. Terry also works closely with physiotherapists to help people in rehabilitation. Terry is very active in the local community. He gives motivational talks to local schools, the Salvation Army, Lyons club and Rotary. Terry has been awarded the Advance Australia Award. One of his major passions is horse racing and one of his goals is to be a race commentator. As a hobby, he has dabbled in commentaries for BMX, motorbikes and speedboat racing.
When Terry first competed internationally it was in track events where he was placed 2nd in the 100m in 1972. It wasn't until some years later that his focus changed to the field events of Shot Put and Discus. In 1992 Terry threw a paralympic record in Discus and earlier this year Terry threw a personal best in shot put, 0.72 metres further than his bronze medal throw.
"When the Australian Paralympic Committee first approached me with details of the sponsorship program I was tentative to begin with," Terry said, "but then I realised that, by participating, I'd have opportunities to talk about my experiences and maybe help prevent other people suffering from work-related accidents".
"Since my accident a lot has been put behind me but with my involvement in the WorkCover program I have been reflecting a lot lately and am remembering things that I have buried for many years. I particularly remember the close shaves I had as a youngster and the feeling of immortality in escaping disaster. I hope that by sharing my story I might be instrumental in preventing an injury to someone who may have become complacent about safety on the job," says Terry.
Kahi Puru was just going about his daily chores when he was swept up by a forklift and dragged for several metres before the driver was alerted to the tragedy.
Kahi was rushed to hospital and received more than 100 units of blood in an initial operation. He was placed on life support but Doctors gave him little chance of surviving and advised his wife to agree to switch the life support unit off. Everyone involved thought that Kahi's life was over but, when the life support machine was switched off, Kahi miraculously took his first breath independently and from that moment he continued to make progress.
As a result of his accidnet, Kahi lost his left leg through the hip. Not one to let his accident get him down, Kahi took life head on and began a vigorous training schedule in powerlifting. In the few years Kahi has been training he has achieved a ranking of one in Australia and 7th in the world. He lifts in excess of 200kg. For those of you who find that hard to comprehend, imagine lifting about 50 4lt paint tins simultaneously or stacking about 10 cement bags and lifting them.
Prior to his accident Kahi was an up-and-coming 'all black' and as a team sport player Kahi is a strong believer in the power of team spirit and support.
"To keep a workplace safe it is so important to look out for each other and work closely with your manager as a team. If you are communicating openly and watching out for your mates, injuries shouldn't happen," says Kahi.
Since his injury Kahi says that he has re-evaluated his life and feels very lucky to be alive and well. Kahi, a devoted family man, chooses to spend his free time with his wife and four children - two of whom were born after his accident despite being told he would not have any more.
In agreeing to participate in the sponsorship program, he said, "I believe in the safety messages WorkCover delivers and I'm happy to have the opportunity to share my story with others".
"I would really like people out in the community to realise that what happened to me could also happen to them if they are not careful".
Mary Hawkins, Manager of the Workplace Injury Management Branch says, "These three paralympic athletes have overcome their injuries and built successful athletic careers. Their inspiring stories prove that motivation towards a realistic and worthwhile goal all help to minimise the impact of impairment. In a similar way, workers who resume work on selected duties following injury are productive, feel valued and are kept motivated and focused on their goal of recovery and a return to full employment".
How the sponsorship program could benefit your organisation
Your organisation may be holding a conference, seminar or other key event and you may be interested in inviting an athlete to come and speak at your event.
Mingling with athletes after a presentation gives people an opportunity to gain insight into the reality of the injured person's situation, making the message so much more compelling. The program is also an effective way of raising awareness of workplace safety issues and emphasising the importance of collective responsibility toward maintaining safe workplaces.
Heath, Kahi and Terry all have some engagements open if you are interested in booking them to speak at your event. Places are limited so preference will be given to an event with maximum coverage and exposure, particularly those that attract media attention.
If you would like to know more about the WorkCover Sponsorship Program of the Australian Paralympic Committee please contact Roslyn Harrison, Marketing Project Officer on (02) 9370 5786, email: [email protected]
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005