Imagine how it would affect you to see a workmate’s leg being torn to shreds.

Think about it.

After someone gets seriously injured at work, everything changes.

You churn over the what-ifs, the bad decisions, the oversights and the poor systems, and you start a journey to make sure it never happens again.

That’s what happened after Nigel Smith got caught in the conveyor at a steel tube mill, 22 years ago.

That day the conveyor had a jam-up.

Nigel turned the machine off and went to fix the problem; he was more worried it would cause stoppages down the line than anything else.

But when he removed the jam the machine restarted automatically.

Kevin Baker was one of the first guys on the scene.

‘Another three feet and Nigel would have been cut in half. It was horrific,’ Kevin said.

He said he can still hear Nigel’s screams.

Two decades on Nigel – now a workplace safety ambassador for WorkCover and the Australian Paralympic Committee – was invited back and returned to his old workplace to see what had changed.

Nigel spoke to old colleagues, friends, and a new generation of steel workers at Austube Mills, about the experience that affected both the business and its people.

Kevin hasn’t forgotten that day; it informed a deeply personal philosophy.

‘Look after each other. That’s what we’re here for. If you don’t look after each other it’s a waste of time being here.’

Nigel’s incident was another turning point for Austube Mills around isolation; it also sparked a dedicated safety journey around behavioural safety and influenced a new kind of worker.

These workers don’t commonly experience workplace injuries first-hand anymore; they became the beneficiaries of a safety culture that was forged in the aftermath of Nigel’s accident.

Garry Meagher, Manager of Safety Quality, Environment and Training, said everyone at Austube Mills is now part of the safety culture.

‘We’ve attempted to build and improve our capability so that we move from just being compliant, to being fully committed,’ Garry said.

‘Our leaders promote safety culture and focus on this with our workers because keeping people safe is what matters. We move people across to that way of thinking.

‘We’re doing it because we want to, not because we have to. Because it’s the right thing to do.

‘If we had the right training and infrastructure back then around Nigel’s incident, we might have prevented it.’

As Austube Mills story shows, the tragedy of an incident can be the trigger for something special.

Incidents like Nigel’s are a constant spur for people there to strive to improve every day, to value safety above all else – as Kevin says, to ‘look out for each other.’

But nothing can replace the leg that was lost or the lives that were damaged.

I hope you never have to go through something like this. But I hope you are already asking, ‘What if?’

What if you started your own journey now?

Watch the emotional story in Full Circle and make a decision: not to wait for your Nigel Smith.

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