Feb. 13, 2008

by John Schofield

Illustrations: Bojan Redzic

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Hi, my name’s Eric Olivieri. I’m 17. I was working in a factory last summer, and I got crushed by a 10-ton steel door.

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My supervisor told me to work with this guy on a machine, but I ended up having to wait around. I didn’t want to get in trouble because the boss was walking around, so I ended up grabbing a broom and sweeping the floor. A guy called me over, and he was moving this 10-ton door. He goes, ‘Could you help me?’ and I go, ‘Sure.’ He wanted me to help guide it down. I felt kind of uneasy going over there because he was stacking them up vertically instead of horizontally. But I put my broom down and got in between this little space.

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The guy fired up the crane before I could get out. One hook caught the door and it tipped on to me. I told him not to fire it up before I was out, and he didn’t hear me or he just said, ‘Screw it, nothing’s going to happen.’ Something did happen. First it caught my left arm and shattered my humerus. There was nothing left in my arm but muscle. That wasn’t too fun. It sprayed all over me.

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Then when I jumped back, it caught my legs and it broke my right femur and it shattered my knee completely. I was pinned up to my waist. And then I was just kind of lying there, waiting. And I kind of felt my arm and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ And then I reached down to feel my leg, and I felt the bone sticking out, and I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ I knew I was in pretty bad shape.

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They called 911 and they were there really fast. When the paramedics came in, they were like, wow, yeah, that kid’s pretty messed up. They didn’t know my age. They thought it was an older guy that was crushed. When they saw me on the ground, it kind of hit them pretty hard. At that point, I didn’t feel anything because my body went into stage 3 shock, where I’m on the verge of bleeding out, so I was like pretty close to dying there.
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They handed me over to the doctors and they kind of fixed everything up nice and neatly. They put a brace over my left leg where the knee was shattered and I ended up developing compartment syndrome in that leg, where they had to operate as soon as possible. Three or six hours, I’m not sure.

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They made a two-inch cut on the side of my leg to relieve the pressure. My leg was like four times the size. They told me, ‘We’re going to try to save your leg,’ and I woke up and I asked them, ‘Is my leg still there?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, yeah, they fixed it.’ Before that stuff, I was like, wow, this has to be a dream. There’s no way this could happen to me. When they finally said that about my leg, it hit me.

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They called my mom and said there was an accident, and they just said there were broken bones. She rushed down to the hospital and called my dad, and my dad came, and they were staying there, and they were crying, and I started to cry a little. I knew they were really scared.

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My Mom says when I went to work that day, they thought I’d come home as usual, but that didn’t happen. She says you always think this stuff happens to other families. She says it’s a miracle I’m alive.

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It hit my sisters pretty hard, too. They’re 12 and 14. When they first saw me, they almost fainted, and my one sister was actually sick. She left because they couldn’t stand seeing their brother like that. Even though I reassured them everything was fine, they still thought I wasn’t going to be normal anymore.

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My friends were there every day. I was never alone by myself. When I went back to school, they came after school and stuff. They were really good. They still are. I like the way they treat me the same, like I’m the old Eric. It makes me feel really good.

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One day, I was joking around with my friends that I should be in a video game called 10 Tons because I survived 10 tons of steel. I was lucky. Not everyone is. In 2007, TK young workers in Ontario died in accidents on the job. After what I’ve been through, I feel like I know 10 tons of stuff about staying safe at work.

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There are five things you really need to know, and they make a lot of sense.

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First, make sure you know the dangers. There are risks in every job. It might be machinery, chemicals, or electricity. It could even be germs, or a lot of lifting, or stuff on the floor you could slip on.

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Make sure you know how to protect yourself. Wearing the right equipment is really important – like a hard hat and safety boots. Training is huge, too. New employers have to give you the right training for your job and for safety. It’s the law.

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Here’s number 3: You need to know what to ask because prevention starts with you. You’ve gotta protect yourself. Go to your boss or the health and safety department. Ask about the hazards and special training. For more questions, check out this website.

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The fourth thing you really need to know is the law. In Ontario, the company has to tell you what the dangers are and how to do your job safely. It’s the law. And here’s a big one: you have the RIGHT to REFUSE any job you don’t think is safe. They can’t fire you for tryin’ to stay alive.

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The fifth thing you gotta remember is your responsibilities. If you’re injured or you get sick at work, you have to tell your boss. That way, you can get the right treatment or compensation, and your boss can make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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When you know all that…

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…you know how to stay safe.

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Whether it’s in a steel mill,

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a big box warehouse,

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or a fast-food restaurant,

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make sure you get the smarts on safety …

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10 tons worth, to be exact. That’s my nickname now. My mom got me this dog tag with the date on the back – 08-13-07. Not that I’ll ever forget.

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It’ll be pretty emotional when I walk across the stage to get my diploma because I’ve been working really hard to get it. Before, I wanted to become a millwright, but I can’t go back to a factory. It kind of freaks me out. Now I want to be a paramedic.

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I hope I never have to come for you. Listen, if you don’t think it’s safe, don’t do it! I had a feeling in my stomach, and I still did it. It almost cost me my life. When I speak to kids, I always say there’s always another job out there, but you don’t get another chance at living. Take it from old 10 Tons – stay safe.