NAPLES — Two back to back explosions changed Brad Livingston’s life on Sept. 20, 1991. He was given a 5 percent chance of survival after suffering burns to 63 percent of his body. He almost lost his legs and hands. His femur was replaced with metal. His heart stopped. All to save three minutes.
According to Alta Forest Products Safety and Human Resources Manager at the Naples Mill, Jeremy Dineen, Alta Forest Products strongly believes in the safety of their employees. For this reason, they brought in Livingston, who travels the country, speaking on the importance of workplace safety.
“Oftentimes, the hardest battle when trying to keep employees safe is, ironically, the employees themselves,” said Dineen.
Dineen said that the pressure to be fast and do a good job can often lead employees to cut corners to save time.
“As Alta management, we try hard to impress upon employees that acting on this pressure without thinking about the best and safest way to proceed is what leads to injury,” said Dineen. “Brad Livingston was brought in as part of our comprehensive safety program that creates a cohesiveness between management and employee.”
On Dec. 13, the gym at Naples Elementary School was packed with Alta employees, as well as 20 students from Bonners Ferry High School, all listening to Brad Livingston’s story. The students came from shop class, however, anyone who expressed an interest was welcome to come.
“I had invited them because we are passionate about safety, both at work, but also in our community,” said Dineen. “For those in classes like shop, I felt the message could be directly applied to some of the things they are doing in school right now.”
Dineen said that safety, especially industrial safety, is a topic that he feels is often missed when educating students. He felt that the consequences of this can lead to horrific injuries for young people entering the workforce.
“As part of the Boundary County community, Alta wants to support our youth and teach them to take care of themselves and their coworkers when they enter the workforce,” said Dineen.
Livingston began his speech. “Let’s talk about a surprise. A completely unexpected event,” he said.
He talked about his accident in great length, with an emphasis on how all of it, including the death of his coworker, could have been prevented by following the safety protocol. It would have only taken three minutes, maybe less, he said.
“We saved three minutes,” said Livingston. “Does that justify me lying unconscious on a hospital bed and my family being told that they are never going to see me alive again?”
Livingston talked about the ripple effect, the people affected by an accident — family, friends, coworkers. The doctors told his family that night that they had done all they could do and did not expect him to make it through the night.
“If we know the ripple effect exists — and we do — then why do people still make choices every day that get them hurt or even killed?” asked Livingston.
He said that there are three answers to that question. The first one is, “I do this all the time. I don’t need you to come in and tell me how to do my job.”
The second one is, “This is how we have always done it. We don’t need to change.”
According to Livingston, the third answer is the worst one: “It will never happen to me.”
“If we come to work thinking those kinds of things, if we get into a vehicle thinking those kinds of things, we have already developed tunnel vision, because we have it all figured out,” said Livingston. “Now we can cheat the system once or twice … and think that we are always going to get away with it … and you don’t.”
As Livingston explained the graphic details of his accident, the audience sat completely quiet.
“I was caught directly in the updraft of that explosion. The fireball hit me and launched me up in the air. I have no idea how high I went,” he said. “As my body started falling, I came back through the ball of fire again, as it was still going up, and I landed on top of the other tank.”
He told the audience that he couldn’t believe that he had been through two explosions.
“Who do you think that happens to?” he asked, looking to the audience.
They quietly answered, “Someone else.”
“We are all someone else,” he replied.
At one point, he asked the students to stand. They were all seated at the front of the room. He asked the audience if they thought that these young men and women were worth coming home to if they were their kids. There was a long pause as silence fell across the gym.
“I had seen this presentation before,” said Dineen, “and the part when he had the students stand up was completely spontaneous and was very emotional.”
It was obvious that Livingston’s story had an impact on the audience.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room by the end,” said Dineen. “His message helps us to focus on what is important at work — staying safe and going home at the end of the day to our families and friends.”
When the presentation was over, the students went on a tour at the mill, where they had the opportunity to learn about how safety works in an industrial environment.
“The students seemed to enjoy the tour and it was a good opportunity to talk about how Brad’s talk is something that can be applied to everyday life at work, school, and at home,” said Dineen.
People left that day with possibly a greater appreciation for their family and the consequences that three minutes could have on their lives.