A Life Sentence

It’s 15 years since Alan Newey’s right arm was torn off by an unguarded conveyor belt, but he still forgets sometimes, and attempts to reach out with the limb that’s no longer there.

He’s seeing a doctor about his next round of surgery, this time to prepare for the fitting of his third prosthetic. This one will screw into the bone and open up a whole new range of movement for him.

There have been turbulent times over the years from despair and depression, to addiction to prescription pain killers, the bitter legal battle for adequate compensation and finally, the light at the end of the tunnel.

These days he works as a safety advocate and has delivered his message to hundreds of groups over the years. One of his best experiences was recent, when a boss told him that after hearing his presentation, a crew refused to perform a process they believed was hazardous. The boss agreed they were probably right.

It’s no surprise that audiences find his story compelling.

He was a right-handed top grade tennis player employed by a Yarraville fertiliser manufacturer when he went to work on an unguarded conveyor belt. Not long after he started his shift, the conveyor grabbed at his clothing, probably his work gloves, and he reported hearing a “massive bang”.

He kept working for about 30 seconds and then realised his arm was gone. It was being crushed as it went round and round on the conveyor belt.

“My first instinct was shock,” Alan said. “That was very quickly followed by wondering if I’d ever see my wife Kathy again.”

There were many surreal moments, such as when he realised one of the police officers who attended the scene was a man he had played competition tennis against just days before.

It’s only a few weeks ago that he discovered wife Kathy reached the scene of the incident on that fateful morning in September 1999 and saw his shocking injuries before he was taken to hospital. She raced to the site after a call saying “there’s nothing to worry about”.  He’d not known how much of the horror of that morning she witnessed first-hand.

“My wife has still never sat through one of my presentations. I don’t know when that will ever happen, if it does,” he said.

“Something like this affects different people in different ways. There were workmates who couldn’t face seeing me, they found it too difficult, too confronting.”

At the age of 35 he had to regain his health, his mobility, find a new job and deal with issues he had never imagined would be part of his life.  The amputation was the start of his long, and at times agonising path through pain and surgeries, rehabilitation and a battle with an addiction to painkillers, along with the realisation that nothing in his life would ever be the same again.

The AWU Victorian Branch was there to support him, and he’s quick to say he would have been lost without the union.

“When something like this happens there are so many unimaginable things that have to be dealt with. The union was great, and incredibly supportive to Kathy as well as to me,” he said.

“You can’t have your time over, and there is not much point in regrets, but would I ever have used an unguarded machine if I’d really thought about it? There is no way!

“The message is simple. If it’s not guarded don’t use it.”

Pivot Limited, now known as Incitec Pivot was fined $90,000 as a result of Alan’s incident.