My first job as an 18-year-old was a steel erector. It was my only job, I did it for 22 years, always working for the same company. I was always loyal to them, and was proud to have worked on some the biggest jobs in Europe. I worked on the Shard, Anfield, the Olympic Stadium, all these prestige jobs.
In November 2020, I was working 14 stories up on a tower block at Blackfriars Bridge. 3 of us, two erectors and a crane driver, were meant to have 3-way radio contact to keep in constant contact when we were setting these beams. It was company policy. But one of the radios wasn’t working; the crane driver couldn’t hear instructions; and we flagged it up with the supervisor. The radios wouldn’t be fixed for 2 weeks, we didn’t want to work with two radios, the job should have been stopped, but the company signed it off to work with two radios for 2 weeks. We weren’t happy, but I had to work without a radio.
I was placing packs under the beam to level it before the crane driver could lower it. Without my radio my mate would have to tell the driver when to lower it, but he couldn’t see that my hand was still under the beam when he radioed to do it.
They only realised the column was on my hand when they heard my screams, as my hand was crushed. I didn’t know what damage had been done until the site first aid team cut off my glove. It was my thumb. They rushed me to A and E in a site car, in rush hour traffic, and I was admitted to surgery that evening. They saved the thumb, but it was fixed in one position and badly scarred.
I can’t use my thumb any more, to do all the normal stuff. I can’t write, I can’t play golf, I can’t play pool, can’t lift weights at the gym; all the things you take for granted. I never thought at the time that it would be so fundamental.
I was off work for two years. I had a second operation in August 2021, to try to extend the movement. It didn’t work so, I can’t go back to steel erection, and that’s the only job I’ve ever done. The company offered me site labouring work, but that’s not the skilled work I used to do, so it was a massive pay cut. It wasn’t suitable for me. I used to get upset, I couldn’t drive 170 miles each weekend to move stuff around the site, I needed to get back to a real job.
I became very depressed, because my life wasn’t as it was before, either work or outside work. I went into depression. cancelled my wedding, lost my partner, was in the house 7/7, couldn’t see a future.
Luckly I was introduced to Helen Clifford by other steel erector mates straight away. The company only paid statutory sick pay, they didn’t follow up on me in any way, no cards, no call from HR, nothing. Helen went to court to get me five interim payments over a year, so I could at least live. She gave me so much support as I was getting depressed, kept me going, reassured me.
I felt the company had chucked me on the scrap heap, showed no loyalty after 22 years, that’s it, done with. Helen understands that, and wants to make sure people are treated right. She travelled to the NE, to visit me in my home, and set out how she could help, and what she could do for me. She sorted me out, and outlined the way forward. When I was depressed, she kept my confidence up, stopped me making rash decisions, explained everything.
I think it’s getting personal between Helen and the company. Helen gets results against them, she says, ‘stop having accidents, and then you won’t have to pay out!’ It’s personal for her, because she wants the best results.
My case settled after three years. It’s a big weight off my mind. I’ve got a new job, white lining the roads. It’s very satisfying, the company make allowances for my injury, and I’ve got a good set of mates. They’ve already shown more loyalty than the old company. I’m home every night, and I’m back together with my partner.
Everything’s fallen into place. I followed Helen’s advice; we kept going; we got a positive outcome. I’m really grateful.