Michael Lovett waited for students to enter the room at D.W. Poppy Secondary on March 30. Lovett lost his left leg in a workplace injury in November 1999. During his presentation, Lovett spoke to the D.W. Poppy students about workplace safety, and understanding their right to refuse unsafe work.

Knowing rights could save life and limb, WorkSafeBC speaker tells D.W. Poppy students

Michael Lovett lost part of his left leg in a workplace accident in Mission

In the darkness of Nov. 9, 1999, Michael Lovett feared for his life.

Lovett was 18 when he landed a job at a sawmill in Mission.

Excited to be earning a wage that would allow him to save for his first car, Lovett was eager to demonstrate his strong work ethic to his co-workers and managers.

But while working the graveyard shift just a few months after starting the job, Lovett suffered a serious injury that cost him his leg – and nearly his life.

As he was cleaning a running conveyor, Lovett’s boot became stuck in the conveyor’s roll feeder, which started dragging his body into the moving machinery.

“I was very scared,” Lovett says, “thinking I’d have to watch myself die and that I’d still be alive when the roller finally went over my head.”

Purely by chance, a link broke off the engine’s drive chain and shut the machine down just seconds before it would have encompassed his body.

The moment before the machine shut down, Lovett thought, “Holy s**t, I’m probably going to die.”

“There wasn’t much pain,” Lovett said. “Just more terror.”

Ten to 15 excruciating minutes passed before he was found by a co-worker.

Over a period of the next month, Lovett endured nine surgeries and had 12 units of blood put into his body. “I had a major infection from cedar bark,” he said.

Lovett survived the incident, but lost his left leg. After undergoing several surgeries and extensive physiotherapy, he has learned to walk on a prosthetic leg.

‘Nobody’s watching out for you’

On March 30, the now 35-year-old Lovett visited D.W. Poppy Secondary with a message to students: understand your right to refuse unsafe work.

“Work isn’t like school,” Lovett said. “Nobody’s watching out for you like your teachers did. Be careful about putting your life into someone else’s hands. Legs don’t grow back.”

Through WorkSafeBC, Lovett has been sharing his story publicly for the past 13 years, speaking at schools and workplaces throughout the province. The goal, according to WorkSafeBC, is to focus prevention efforts on young workers, concentrating on industries that pose the highest risk to youth, partnering with employer associations, organized labour, government, parents, community groups, and employment centres to increase awareness of young worker health and safety issues.

“Kids need to be aware of their rights in the workplace,” Lovett told the Times as the students filed into the room for the presentation.

“Kids need to understand and value their safety. Don’t be so willing to put your life in your employer’s hands. Take your own initiatives, be your own advocate for safety.”

Lovett told the students that, because young workers are “so eager and they are so willing…they don’t speak up, they don’t ask questions. Somewhere down the line, questions came across as (the person asking them) being incapable. And I get it, nobody wants to be perceived as being that way. But I’m going to tell you that’s not the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.”

By the Numbers:

• The young worker injury rate for male workers declined in 2015 but remains above the provincial average at three claims per 100 workers as compared to 2.3 for all young workers

• Young worker injuries accounted for 863,841 work days lost and nearly $299 million in claim costs for time-loss claims.

• Sectors with the highest risk for serious injuries were: service sector (29 per cent), construction (29 per cent), manufacturing (17 per cent) and trade (12 per cent). The greatest number of time-loss claims by young workers was due to over-exertion, being struck by or against objects, and falls.