From the silent voice of death come the soundest lessons in life


We can't deny it ... Occupational Health and Safety has gathered some real momentum in recent years.  I suppose we have people like Larry Knight (fatality - Beaconsfield Gold Mine - Tasmania) and the three men who died at Gladstone (South Australia) to thank for that.  High media exposure creates shock waves through the chambers of our political leaders.  

So it was with some hope that I looked forward to SafeWork Week 2007.   It was some months before I received a call from Tasmania.  They asked if I would be interested in going over there to talk at their SafeWork Week.  I was already scheduled to do a presentation for SafeWork SA here but once we worked through the schedules so that they did not conflict, I found myself on a plane bound for Hobart in October.

I have to say.  In my 40 something years I don't recall ever being made such a fuss of.  It seemed odd to me because I felt all the while that I was doing something that I felt really honoured to have an opportunity to do ... and here it was that these Tassie folk made me feel like I was bestowing on them some major offering.  Safety Standards Tasmania put me up in truly glorious accommodation.  I'd never been to Tasmania before so for me it was a lot to take in.  Breathtaking countryside ... awesome weather and lovely, lovely people.

My first engagement was to speak in front of a room full of teenagers and teachers - the theme message for these young workers was "What have you got to lose?".  

I'm not sure how many were there - perhaps 150 or so?  The venue was at one of the cities gorgeous seaside yacht clubs.  We started with the introduction to Reflections which sets the mood with music and pictures.  Then I spoke about what had happened to Daniel and how something like this affects the family ... then finished with another audio visual presentation of his life.  

I was standing outside directly afterward when the bus was getting set to take the kids away.  Something quite touching happened then.  One young man as he walked past to get on the bus detoured towards me.  It looked like maybe he'd just suddenly mustered up some courage and veered toward me with just this - "thank you".  I then noticed that all the kids were doing the same - one by one.  God - it took my breath away.  

I've done quite a few of these here in South Australia for 'School and Beyond' and I've often noticed how the kids will look over afterward but look away again.  Teenagers are funny creatures.  As outspoken and cheeky as they can be, at times they can be so very shy even though I knew some were really keen to approach me.  I'm always really pleased if they do come up and say hello - tell me what they thought.  One girl said "Danny was beautiful" and another said she wanted to go home and hug her mum.  The boys often just want to acknowledge me with eye contact.

Later that day we resumed at WorkCover Tasmania headquarters and I did another presentation there.  I got to meet some other families who have buried a loved one due to workplace death.  I'm hoping they can start a similar kind of things on their home turf.  I'm really not a huge fan of travelling so this really would be best done with home town people who know the local system and how it works.

The next day I was scheduled to speak at the Crown Casino for the TCCI (Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry).  

Now I have to say - if I ever had second thoughts about what I was doing before then, they were well and truly squashed that day.  This was a HUGE challenge for me personally because here... finally I was going to get a chance to talk to people who are key decision makers in OHS.  This in my opinion is the pinnacle target group - employers and OHS advisors.  I won't deny I was very nervous.  I don't tend to mince words in my talk...and the whole presentation is pretty confronting - how on earth would it be perceived?  

The venue was unbelievable and it was by far the biggest gathering I had ever addressed in the one sitting.  With audio being such an important component in what I do, the lighting and sound is really a big part of it and this was all so professionally done, I could rest knowing it was all under control.  

I listened as some of the presenters before me spoke.  I sat next to a young man in the front row waiting for my turn.  It turns out he was a lawyer and was scheduled to speak after me about OHS and the legal side of things.  I found myself quietly apologising for anything I was about to say - because...yes, I do have a bit of a 'dig' at the legal eagles and their role in how family cope with something like this.  Anyway he seemed a lovely chap and...oops, there - no time for chatting, I was called up.  

Suddenly the podium was mine and the room went very quiet and dark as the music started to roar.  It's always hard to know how to gauge how things are going when you're actually looking out at a sea of faces.  I guess the will to keep going in spite of the nagging doubts is what keeps it all in check but there's no question, I was very unsure.

I finished speaking and I played the final piece - I walked these people through the life of my dead son.  The words to the song hollered out as his beautiful face adorned the big screen.  I don't often watch this myself.  There's no surer way for me to lose it than look at Danny.  But this time I was seated on the stage facing the audience and I could watch their faces and body language.  I could see some were looking away doing their best not to look - and I do believe I could see swollen eyes in those faces.  Others seemed affixed to the screen and didn't move a muscle.   I suppose it was a little eerie even for me.

The video stopped as the music ended.  The room was deathly quiet.  One person began to clap and then others followed and it went on and on and on.  Okay so now I felt more reassured - the message didn't get lost.  The speaker rose to introduce his next presenter (the lawyer) and I realised he was having trouble speaking.   The lawyer then got up on the podium.  He looked over to me and then began to speak...but his voice was shaken.  He thanked me ... it was perhaps the first time he'd been given a look at what its like to walk down the other side of the path - the realisation that with all of these fatal accidents there is a human being and an entire network of people that are permanently scarred.

You know what really amazed me about all of this?

The TCCI is, I suppose, the equivalent to our Business SA.  So here I was, invited by the state's business representative group to speak to their members (who paid to listen by the way) without them knowing what a cracker about what I was going to say or how I would deliver my message.  How gutsy was that? just goes to show, never judge a book just because you read a similar one elsewhere.    

Anyway - so with my trip to Tasmania now done I was looking forward to doing my bit for SafeWork Week in South Australia.

The week to follow however spun me into a deep hole.  I didn't realise it at first ... in fact quite initially I felt the opposite.  I was pumped!  I felt alive and driven - as opposed to angry and resentful.  I really don't understand why but I should by now because there is a pattern.  I'm beginning to realise that while I thrive on doing this kind of thing, reliving Daniel's death over and over again is taking its toll.  There's a sense of achievement - a feeling that something good can come from this all this heartache but it all comes at a price.

I ended up arriving to the venue some 10 minutes late - so the wheels were wobbling well and truly before I'd even begun.  Then - good Lord, no computer to play the audio visual ... and when one was hunted down in a hurry, the sound system was not working.  The lights were too bright - you couldn't see the screen.  Nothing felt right...and of course I had no one to blame but myself because I could have addressed this before I started.

But improvise we do - and - improvise I did.  I dragged that jolly laptop up high on the podium and bent the microphones down onto the tiny speakers from the computer and suddenly it all came together in the end.  Okay it was a far cry from the Crown Casino or the yacht club but the important thing was that we got through.

The following day I presented at Worley Parsons at a small safety conference for the northern (iron triangle?) industry groups.  Present there were OHS advisors for BHP, OneSteel, Santos and a few others I can't quite recall the names of.  That went rather well and we had a decent discussion afterward.  This is the first time I've been able to sit with the group and talk more about the issue.  

So all in all the SafeWork Week 2007 was a huge learning curve for me personally.  

I can see a future in all of this now ... the planning and design is done and now I have to figure out a way to deliver it without falling into the black hole.