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Forklift Safety Training Is A Way Of Life - An Interview with Kahi Puru

May 2, 2017
Workplace Safety

Kahi Puru, has had many titles in his life, Father, Husband, Paralympian and now advocate for work health and safety.

At age 29 Kahi was working as a driver when he was injured in an accident involving a forklift. Kahi lost his leg in the accident and his life was changed forever.

Today, Kahi has taken on the mission of creating awareness in of safety in the workplace. Kahi, uses the mentality that safety doesn’t stop until you leave the shop.

The following is an interview with Kahi discussing Work Safety and the impact that a momentary laps in judgment has had on him.

Can you tell us about your job prior to the accident?
I was driver/operator of an industrial vacuum truck that collected and transported 14000 meters of toxic waste. I had been on the job for 8 months, our shifts started at 12am and went to 1:30pm. We worked for 13 and half hours in a shift

Were you well-educated on safety back then – what was the industry like regarding safety in the 90’s? Coming from a military background

Given my military background I had extensive safety education but back then things weren’t monitored to same standards as they are today. In most cases, there was a lot of initial safety training and educating when first starting a job but once you were out in the workforce things got very relaxed, this can still be a danger in workplace safety today.

How did the accident happen?
I was coming towards the end of his shift and trying to put away all of the vacuum hoses. I was shutting down the machinery and stepped off of the back of the truck. I didn’t see that there was a forklift operator driving in my direction, obviously, he didn’t see me either. I was caught by the forklift and dragged under it for several meters. I can’t recall specifics of the accident as I was knocked unconscious.

Explain the effect it had on your life initially
I woke up in the hospital in the intensive care unit. I had several injuries to my body including a fractured skull and my left leg had been removed at my hip. At first, I think I went through what most amputees go through. I was afraid and unsure if I wanted to live. How could I provide for my family now? I had a wife a 4-year-old daughter and a 2 and half-month-old baby boy. I was so unclear of what my life would be like?

Once I saw my wife and children, I knew that the answer was just to move forward. There was still much to live for and things would be different. But, I knew that I could adjust and overcome. I didn’t have a choice really, life has to continue on and so did I.

Long-term, how did it affect you – what have you achieved because of it?

At the end of the day, this whole experience made me a better person. I really began living for others first and not just for myself. I began to understand that things happen in life but it really does depend on how you choose to react to them that determines how you’re going to feel. I began to understand that taking care of my family first and then helping others was a better way to live.

This has served to motivate me. First, I began working on myself. I became an athlete and began to compete in powerlifting where I represented Australia in the 2000 Paralympic games. I also have competed in various hand-cycling events and completed the NY marathon. I still compete in various sports today and love the challenge that sport presents. I became a better father and husband and enjoy taking time out to spend with my family. I take every opportunity to teach my children and be involved in their lives. I also live to educate others; I enjoy my life as an ambassador for SafeWork NSW, and as a motivational speaker for workplace safety and for others with disabilities. I try to take every opportunity to encourage everyone to live positive and to increase awareness in the workplace. Safety is something that is everyone’s responsibility.

There’s nothing funny about an accident like this, but has anything ever happened to you because of your loss that was totally hilarious?

I laugh about this all the time, it is interesting when you have an obvious disability to see how people react. Most people will stare, while others will try to ignore you. My favorite thought is the children, they will run right up to me in the middle of a mall and shout “hey, what happened to you?” this cracks me up. At first it makes all the adults uncomfortable as their parents cringe and try to scold their child for asking but I look at it as an opportunity to educate and raise awareness, so I respond to the child by telling them a story about not looking both ways before crossing the road or not listening to my parents. I try to bring the idea of safety to terms they can understand. This is great because it usually opens up a dialog with the parents as well and that good. The more that people are aware and feel free to talk about these things the better we all become.

How do you think the industry could improve safety now?
I think that the industry can continue to improve by being more proactive. We need to encourage everyone from the CEO to the new guy to have discussions around safety and look for opportunities to apply safety procedures and protocols. Safety is an everyone issue and it would be great to see that approach come across.

Another thing that I always advocate for is to record near misses. Most people only record actual incidents but by reporting near misses you create an awareness before there is an accident.

If you could say one thing to our Tradies, what would it be?

Be vigilant and protective record your near misses in order to create awareness. Be the most aware during your first and last 10 minutes of the day. Accidents happen when people aren’t paying full attention and so just make sure that it is something that is always in your mind.

Safety doesn’t stop till you leave the shop!!