Irish Independent 24 Oct 2017
James Gorry was paralysed after a fall on a building site in 2005. Now he dedicates his life to saving others
I lost the use of my legs in a workplace accident in 2005. Since then I’ve had to overcome plenty of obstacles on the road to recovery, not least accepting the fact that my injuries were life-changing and coming to terms with the knock-on effect on my family.
I was in steel fabrication, welding and crane hire. I worked my way up to where I had my own fabrication company.
I had huge knowledge and experience and had worked throughout Ireland, England and Wales. I had it all.
Then came October 15, 2005 — the day that changed everything.
On the day of the accident, I was working at a height, repairing a damaged roof on a galvanising plant.
Basically, I went to work and I took a chance. Actually, I took two chances.
I didn’t have a safety harness on and housekeeping on the site was a mess — I knew this, I had observed this, but I didn’t intervene. So I suppose I am the author of my own misfortune.
I slipped and fell through the roof I was working on, landing on the ground 26ft below.
That day changed my life forever. All I know is that I slipped or tripped and I ended up in intensive care in Tallaght Hospital for three months and in the rehabilitation hospital in Dun Laoghaire after that for another seven months.
I am now paraplegic. And I’ve had to face the fact that I’ll be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
During my time at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, I received intensive occupational therapy, physiotherapy and psychological therapy to deal with the injuries.
I started on the long and hard road to recovery and trying to rebuild my life in rehab.
And through hard work and determination, my family and I have overcome this tragedy.
But I had to go back to square one and it was not only me that was affected by my accident.
It’s had knock-on effects on my wife and my family. People tend to forget about that element.
When you have an accident like I did, you are obviously physically paralysed, but you are financially paralysed too.
Thankfully, I am not psychologically paralysed. I continued rehabilitation at home and subsequently completed the ECDL computer course and a presentation and skills course.
By chance, I was asked if I would be interested in giving a talk about my accident to the workforce of a company that I used to work for, and I said yes.
Having experience of the huge importance of health and safety best practices in the workplace and the horrible suffering and consequences leading from mistakes and errors, I jumped at the chance.
In the years since my accident, I’ve carved out a career for myself as a health and safety presenter and now I travel around Ireland and the world, spreading a safety message.
People say ‘you were unlucky,’ but I was on life support and I made it — I am lucky.
I am well placed to pass on a message of awareness and vigilance to the risks and repercussions of accidents in the workplace.
I am living proof of what can happen. I have had the opportunity to speak for many companies throughout Europe — construction companies, pharmaceutical companies, many different industries — and they all have the same issue, they want to keep their workers safe.
In my experience, the biggest issue with health and safety in workplaces across the board is a lack of communication.
This is a particular issue in the construction industry where you have so many smaller companies and sub-contractors coming into a project for a short period of time
When you have an accident like I did, you are obviously physically paralysed, but you are financially paralysed too
and then moving on to the next job.
There should be no ‘them’ and ‘us’ when it comes to health and safety — everyone on a job should be involved and insist on it.
The first safety presentation I did was only about 14 months after my accident.
I wanted people to really understand the message — you see ads or videos on it, but I don’t stand up and walk away from my wheelchair after I am done, I am a living example of what can happen to you when you do not observe health and safety best practices.
I have found talking about my accident very helpful — it’s good for me. Small things, even just the very simple daily issues that crop up like washing yourself are devastating really. I have adjusted to it all quite well, but if I didn’t have my work, I don’t know what I would do.
I had a lot of complications as a result of my injuries and I still have complications now.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with Leukaemia and that was another journey. Then last April, I had to have my right leg amputated.
You see, with an accident at the level of mine, it’s not just the direct consequences you have to worry about, but the follow-on from that.
So my leg had to be amputated because of poor circulation. I had no choice but to have my leg amputated, but if I had made the right choice in the beginning, I wouldn’t have any of this.
I actually have no memory of the day of his accident, or the three months that followed it.
Maybe I am better off not remembering.
I am not Superman, I have huge support from my wife and family, and I have always been a driven person.
To this day, my wife still says to me, ‘how could you, of all people, have done it?’. I destroyed my life, her life and my family’s life and I need to make sure I get that message out there.
I came home to my family in a wheelchair and that is the reality. My accident was preventable and the terrible reality is that there is no reverse button in any accident. Trips, slips and falls are some of the most common workplace accidents. I got a hat-trick and my reward was a wheelchair.
I was 52 and able-bodied when I went to work that day and I was 53 when I woke up paralysed. Telling my story has given me a new focus — I enjoy what I do and I am passionate about it.
If I can make a difference to one person and prevent them from having an accident, then that is my job done. Construction Safety Week, an initiative of the Construction Safety Partnership Advisory Committee (CSPAC), is taking place all this week until Friday.