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Published: Spring, 2007; Vol 9, Num 1

 

Laborers’ True Stories

 

 
“It won’t happen to me” – the famous last words of so many injured workers. Overcoming this casual dismissal is one of the great challenges in safety training. 
 
No one can “talk the talk” with as much credibility as a worker who has suffered a devastating injury and come back to tell the story.  In Laborers’ True Stories, the Fund asked four Laborers to talk about the injuries or illness they endured and the lessons they learned from the experience.
 
“We hope this DVD will be an eye-opener, especially for LIUNA’s apprentices,” says LHSFNA OSH Division Director Scott Schneider. “Young Laborers often assume they are invincible, that nothing will happen to them on the job. But too often, they learn the hard way. We hope this DVD will ease this process and prevent serious injuries, especially among young workers.”
 
Phil Ritter, an instructor at the Indiana Laborers’ Training Trust Fund, is a good example. He tells the first story on the DVD. “I was just starting out my career, running a jackhammer pretty much non-stop, day after day after day,” he says, recalling how he began with the Laborers in 1979. “I was 26, in my prime, and I didn’t want the other guys thinking I was a wimp.   So, I thought, well, I’ll show ‘em what Phil Ritter can do, but…,” he pauses, “the jackhammer showed me what it could do.”
 
Despite growing numbness in his fingers, with a new baby and his wife out of work, Ritter kept working. Eventually, he was taking up to 24 aspirins a day for pain. It got to where he couldn’t hold his spoon or fork, couldn’t hold a newspaper, and the pain at night was awful. When he finally went to a doctor, he was diagnosed with repetitive motion disorder. He had to have surgery in both arms, and it took six months to heal.
 
“It’s tough to convince young guys,” he says, clearly thinking back almost 30 years ago. “You can’t fight these machines. They don’t have feelings like we do. But if I’d just thought and not gripped that thing like I was hanging on for dear life. Once it is stuck far enough into the concrete, all you gotta do is stand there and keep it steady…you can relax your hands. Do not grip that thing eight hours a day because it’ll chew you up and hurt you bad. Listen to the people who’ve got experience.”
 
Three other Laborers – Mike Cackowski, Kevin Ramey and Vincent Graveley – also tell their stories. Cackowski developed skin cancer; Ramey suffered a fall injury and Graveley hurt his back during a materials handling mishap. 
 
Filmed at two Laborers’ training centers, the stories are moving and convincing. Color and black and white sequences are mixed for dramatic effect. Music adds another dimension. The DVD runs 21 minutes and seven seconds, and each of the four segments can be played separately. It is designed for use in toolbox talks or in the classroom. 
 
The first distribution went to training center directors, disseminated by Laborers-AGC Education and Training Fund Executive Director John LeConche at the directors’ meeting just prior to 2007 Tri-Fund Conference. LeConche will mail copies to those directors who were unable to attend the meeting. Additional copies can be ordered online at www.lhsfna.org/publications.