My Story: Gary Lewis
My path to becoming a safety professional began on Feb. 19, 2000, when I was in my basement building a cabinet. I was using my table saw with a three-quarter-inch dado blade. The board I was cutting kicked backed, causing my left hand to be pulled across the blade. As a result, I had to have my middle figure amputated, and my ring finger was left permanently bent with nerve damage after six operations.
The doctor who treated me was unsure whether I would be able to continue working in construction. Because of limited use of my hand, I was tested by a psychologist to see what work I would be most suited for. It turned out that it was working in safety.
I did not realize this until a year later, when I was fortunate to be sent to a power plant being built by Fluor Constructors. I was on the night shift working on excavation when the company needed another safety person on the shift. Because of my safety training through the union hall, I was selected. For the next two years, I worked in Fluor’s safety department until the end of the project. I did a lot of the safety grunt work, but they taught me about safety and helped me to get my certifications, including to be an emergency medical technician.
For the past 15 years, I have worked at coal-fired power plants as a safety supervisor throughout the northern United States.
When I tell workers during orientations about my injury, they see what can happen to a person in a blink of an eye, changing not only the person’s life, but also the lives of the people around him or her. More than one worker has stopped me out in the field and said how my story made them realize what can happen if they did not pay attention to what they are doing.
I consider myself very fortunate to have a job that gives me great satisfaction. I get to train and teach workers how to do their jobs safely and, hopefully, not get injured. I tell them not to do as I did the morning of my accident. I was in a rush, too comfortable using my saw and, although I was aware of the danger in what I was doing, I decided to take a chance anyway.