Nick Perry’s life took a dramatic turn in 2001 while working at a Victoria lumberyard. He was standing in front of a forklift when several sheets of unstrapped lumber fell on top of him and broke his back.
He underwent surgery, spent a few months at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver, and endured another two-plus years of rehab in Victoria. He was told he wouldn’t walk again. He was 19 at the time.
“But I didn’t listen, and I walk unassisted now,” said Perry, 33, an ‘incomplete paraplegic’ who has a brace supporting his left leg.
These days, through a WorkSafeBC program, Perry speaks about workplace safety and awareness with students in B.C. and with employers across Canada. His presentations include a video called Lost Youth, which re-creates his and three other accidents.
His talks are intended to better prepare young people and to implement strategies to prevent injuries.
“They have rights as employees, regardless of age,” said Perry, who spoke with Planning 10 students Tuesday at Vanier Secondary. “They can look out for themselves by standing up for their right to refuse unsafe work.”
He notes an “invincibility factor” among men, who are inclined to work hard and keep their mouths shut — especially if working for an intimidating employer.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I know a lot of employers are trying to make things better at high-risk employment, but sometimes it’s overlooked because I think there’s different rules for big and small business.
“Sometimes the smaller business could be doing a better job.”
In Perry’s case, he worked for a small business where just one person had first-aid training, and minor accidents were greeted with a pat on the shoulder.
“I think accidents get brushed under the carpet sometimes,” he said. “(But) there has been a lot of change.
“I’ve seen a lot more employers push forward with the idea that they want the people that work for them to be just as safe as they would want to be if they were on the front line.”
While the injury rate for young workers has improved, an average of 26 young workers are injured daily in B.C., according to statistics. In 2013, six young workers were killed on the job.
Perry would like to see a greater number of safety officers at job sites, and more people with education and background to be “everywhere at once.”
In time, he hopes to become a safety officer.
“It’s a pretty exciting time for me now,” said Perry, who is married and expecting his first child in May. “It (accident) was just a hiccup.”