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The power of personal experience

The release of the annual statistics for fatally injured workers is seen by many people in the health and safety world as an opportunity to comment on HSE's effectiveness.

But shouldn't we just stop and reflect on what that number of 173 people who were fatally injured doing their job last year actually means? Every week three or more people walk out of the door of their home to go to their job and never come back, leaving families, friends and workmates in shock and grief at their loss.

What makes me sad is that many of the causes of these accidents recur time and again - falling through fragile roofs, crushed by vehicles, trapped in machinery. So if it is the same basic mistakes that are costing lives, how do we get through to people?

There are no more powerful voices than those who have suffered a loss or serious injury or ill health. These raw, human stories have an important place in our work to educate people about the value and importance of health and safety. We have many such testimonies on our website - Christopher Morgan, Stephen Rizzotti and James Chapman's are just a few.

James' story is one that I know has touched a lot of people.

In 2005, he had his left arm ripped off when his jacket got caught in machinery on a farm in Warwickshire. He was 23 at the time. He sank pretty low, suffering depression. He felt a horrible sense of helplessness. His injury affected him badly, but also his family and those close to him at the time.

When he talks about his experience it holds people's attention in a way that a lecture from a safety adviser cannot. Audiences cannot fail to be moved. It makes people who say 'it won't happen to me' stop and face up to the reality. James is now a leading safety campaigner and recently received an MBE for his work.

It's not just workers who are converted by the power of personal experience. I've met a good number of managers over the years who, after having somebody seriously injured or die on their watch, become passionate advocates for safety.

The sad thing is that it takes a tragedy for some people to be converted.

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