Whatís left at the end. - Mark Bell

      Is word getting out there enough? Iíve heard a federal judgeís amazement at anyone placing a mast into a power line. Accident participants have been labeled as dumb, and worse, by peers. Unions who get paid to represent people ought to be outraged if members have not been safety educated, watched available tapes, been tested, then reminded periodically to stay safe. Where are they? Fox attorneys pulled a great safety manual off the WAGA website a year or so before WTTGís van was totaled after grounding 115,000 volts, also injuring its operators. It may have been prevented if the operators were required to read, memorize, and comply with the teachings, free off the website. $300,000 loss? Probably close. They were fined by OSHA, too.
     Sometimes it seems as if the message is not getting out there enough.
     I was told by an OSHA guy that broadcasters will seek and find their own level of safety. He sees it all the time; avoidable workplace accidents, pain, suffering, death, family agony, frustrated co-workers, and profitable corporations. Without the profitable corporations, though, none of us work. That means broadcasters need to step up to the challenge of safety. Itís part of the job.
     Hang this article in your truck, a bulletin board, your locker, wherever. Put a picture of your family and station logo next to it. An accident isnít just about you, itís about them dealing with whatís left of you in the end.
     The following are edited excerpts from papers written by Dan Nelson and Kimberly Arms, both survivors of separate accidents in Ď95 and Ď97.

     Dan: I was driving, a reporter with me. I parked the truck close to the water in the road, and have a vague memory of opening the side doors and turning equipment on. After that it stops. I had put the mast up into a power line, creating path to ground through the truck, the reporter, and I.  My next vague memory is being carried by the emergency medical people.  I think one of them asked me who the president was. All I could feel was my right leg, in searing, agonizing pain.

     Kim:  Iím fortunate to not remember anything about the accident, as I would not want to replay it over in my mind. I understand that my colleague raised the mast into live wires and there was some sort of explosion.  He was hurt. Witnesses have said that I ran to see what was going on and I was injured as well. Injured is putting it mildly.  When the first paramedics arrived on the scene they took one look at me and decided to treat him first. They thought I would not survive.
 
     Dan: The next ten to fifteen days is a fog of pain, memory loss and surgery. I remember the nightmare of being told that they might have to amputate. Another was seeing my parents in tears in the intensive care unit, their only son lying in a burn ward after nearly being killed by seven kilovolts.  I vividly remember waking up and seeing that my right foot and part of my lower leg was gone. The last thing to heal was the residual limb, the medical name of what was left. They did multiple surgeries on that alone because of infection.
     After a wave of despair and loss, my mind seemingly went blank. Doctors and therapists advise acceptance and moving on. They were there to help me recover and learn to walk again, and thatís exactly what they did.
     There was a good flow of visitors, and a lot of time spent alone. Sometimes I thought about what happened and felt guilty.
     Every morning the nurses and patient care assistants performed very painful wound care and dressing changes. I remember a young boy a few doors down who had been burned. When they began his treatment he would scream loudly. I always knew they were almost to my room when I heard him screaming.
 
     Kim: In September it will be three years. I have had well over twenty surgeries and they continue still...and I am one of the lucky ones.

     Dan:  Thus began outpatient rehab and a year in and out of a wheelchair. During this period I started working back at the station as an editor. I would go to therapy in the morning and work nights editing. Unfortunately, I didnít get along with the show producer.
     Medically, I was still having major problems, setbacks because of wound care and prosthetic issues. [The coworker in the accident] came back to work around early 1996.  She acted differently towards me, as if trying to deny my existence.
     Later on my case went to trial. In the beginning I had no intention of suing anybody, but as time went on and my rehab and wound care issues dragged on, my parents thought I deserved ďsomething.Ē Lawsuits donít solve everything but I can only hope that lawsuits will get somebodyís attention.
     There were four defendants, manufacturers youíre all familiar with. All but one settled before trial. We went to trial against them. After two days, they settled. I then left the second job I had after leaving the station worked at when my accident occurred. I Ďll never work in local TV news again. After what so many have been through, I hope thereís a significant shift in the procedures within the industry.

     Kim:  I write this not as a personal sob story, but rather, what I hope will be a reality check.  We work in a dangerous environment every day. These accidents can be prevented!!!
     I hope my story will encourage you to take a look at your stations, colleagues and your training, and do three things: INVESTIGATE, EDUCATE, and MANDATE CHANGE!   Everything we do in news involves investigation. Ask questions: What has been happening in TV regarding safety?  What are station policies toward safety training in live trucks?  Is it happening in an ongoing and conclusive manner?   What safety protections does our equipment offer?  Are other stations doing it better who model strong safety training?  Is the attitude toward safety training a priority or brushed aside in favor of deadlines and avoiding overtime?
    EDUCATE yourselves and those around you.
    MANDATE CHANGE.  Require that your stations equip live trucks with safety warning devices. Before you work in a live truck in any capacity, demand effective and ongoing training, not a fifteen minute talk about the dangers, then a requirement to sign paper saying you've been trained; That's not training, that's liability control. Great materials exist that require extensive training and testing before use of equipment...find and use those programs!
    Everyone is responsible for playing a role in their safety, and that of those around them. Take the time now for your family, your colleagues, and yourself, because you don't get the time back when your facing three to five years of surgery and a lifetime of change. Trust that this is more important than any exclusive you could ever get, interview you could set up, and any story you could ever air...INVESTIGATE, EDUCATE, and MANDATE CHANGE. It could save your life!!!!