Paul Mahoney was working at a paper mill in Kent when a breakdown in communication between colleagues caused him to suffer a life-changing accident.
It was a Saturday morning (November 25, 2000) and like any other Saturday at work in November. The football season was in full flow and we were bantering with each other at the plant as the scores rolled in.
I got the handover to say the paper machine was going on to 100 per cent recycled fibre and the production that we were making would go over to the paper machine.
That particular day there were three bales from a previous run sitting on the conveyor ready to go, but as soon as we started up the machine the bales fell in to the breaker and along the screw conveyors, causing a blockage.
The accident has taken my life down a different route.
The way we would clear a blockage was that someone would be upstairs to isolate it and then they would give us the all clear that everything was OK. A couple of us would then open up the hatches and clear the blockage out.
That day, the first blockage was cleared as normal, the hatches were closed and the all clear that the machine was OK to start again was radioed upstairs but the machine blocked again. "It's going to be one of those days", I thought.
To speed up the unblocking process the screw conveyors were run backwards to help clear them. I watched the screw conveyors stop and as it was noisy we gave each other a quick thumbs up to indicate that it was OK to clear.
I put my arm into the machine to clear the crossover point one more time so that we could get on with feeding the bales back in and have a normal working day. My colleague radioed upstairs but unbeknown to me the message didn't get through and five seconds later the machine started up with my arm still inside.
All of a sudden, I heard this whizzing sound and then I felt my arm break. My initial thought was "I have broken my arm here, great" but when I pulled my arm out it wasn't there.
My severed arm was travelling up the screw conveyor. I screamed over to my colleague and they shut the machine down.
I thought that I was going to bleed to death. I pressed my stump against my chest and stumbled about 40 yards when another colleague Darren, who was a first aider, put me on to the floor, wrapped his jacket around the wound, and put his fist up my armpit to stem the bleeding.
I thought I was going to die and told him to tell my family that I loved them. He kissed my forehead and said: "You tell them yourself." Within minutes an ambulance crew arrived.
I was airlifted to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead with my limb, which was packed up in ice. My arm was reattached in a 16-hour operation.
It took about 13 months before I gained enough movement in my arm and hand. I can bend my elbow and I can grip big objects but that's about it.
It turned out that my colleague upstairs didn't know that my arm was in the machine and so started it up. It was a simple case of miscommunication.
The accident has taken my life down a different route. I no longer work at the paper mill and now give motivational talks about the lead up to the accident and where it all went wrong.
I don't take stuff for granted like I used to. It does change you as a person. When it first happened I was very conscious of what people would say.
There were lots of things that went wrong that day. People always think it is just one thing that causes accidents and someone must be to blame; essentially they are incorrect as it's lots of little things that line up to cause the failure. There were communication issues, we had no written procedures and it was a constant issue that was part of our working day, when running the machine, that it would block.
I would encourage anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to slow down and take in the issues around them. It is about having the courage to have a conversation with colleagues and managers alike about the issues they are experiencing.
Posted: 9/11/2017 1:46:30 PM