Mark Bulmer’s story.
I was a steel erector for over 20 years. I was experienced, good at my job, and worked all over the UK and abroad, even in India. It’s a hard game, working away from home for long periods, but I was good at it.
In January 2020, I was working for Tolants as a crane site supervisor on residential flats being built for the over 60s in Jesmond. I was concerned about some of the lifting practices, and had warned several times that there was an accident waiting to happen. My warnings were recorded in an email, thankfully.
At the time of my accident, the team was asked to lift wall panels, 3m by 1.5m, weighing a quarter of a tonne. I thought the proposed method was unsafe, and asked to see the paperwork, only to be told everything was in order.
After a few panels had been lifted successfully, one panel did fall from the crane, from about 6m height, onto me. I was injured all along my left hand side: broken collar bone, shoulder, ribs, compression break in my ankle, and a punctured lung.
My life was saved by the medics in the Air Ambulance, but I don’t remember much about my time in hospital because I was drugged up to the eyeballs for several weeks. I was in the ICU for three weeks, but someone up there was looking after me, because I’m still breathing.
I left the ICU as the first Covid cases came into Newcastle hospital and was released from hospital just before the March lockdown. It was too early really and affected my recovery. For example, all my physio was by telephone, all my exercise aids were posted to me. It took me a year to be able to walk, although the doctors and experts had said I’d never walk again. The specialists offered me wheelchairs, but I feared that if I got into one, I’d have given up, and never would have progressed.
At home, my wife made my bedroom in the downstairs living room, because I couldn’t get upstairs. During lockdown I didn’t see anyone for months, not even my new granddaughter. My sons had to come to help my wife lift me into the car to go to hospital, and a malicious neighbour reported my ’visitors’ to the Police. The Police came to the house, and told me not to worry.
My family were devastated by the accident. My wife and sons took it badly and are still affected nearly three years later. I can’t play with the grandkids, can’t kick a ball, can’t walk more than 500 yards.
One thing that baffled my doctors was that my ankle swelled with liquid in the plaster cast. They didn’t believe that I wasn’t putting weight on it, but tried several new casts before giving me a moonboot to accommodate the swelling. The pain caused me several night trips to A&E, and it still swells even today.
After a few weeks, my pay stopped. A former colleague recommended me to contact Helen Clifford. The steel erectors are a small tight knit community and Helen has a great reputation amongst them. They follow her and congratulate her whenever they hear of her achievements. Helen was brilliant. She got things in place, and made things happen. She got me private physio and arranged for me to see a specialist in Harley Street! Helen had to fight the insurers for everything I needed. They were treating us terribly, and Helen fought them on our behalf. ‘It’s my job to get their backs up’ she says. No one bullies her, she’s open, and she talks about things.
The HSE investigated the accident, and Tolants pleaded guilty. I wanted to resolve the claim quickly, to get closure, and Helen got a settlement for me. On top of being unable to walk and bend, I take painkillers every day. I’d fail the site drug tests and be unsafe so I can never work again. My memory’s not so good these days either.
Helen’s not just a solicitor, she’s become a close family friend. She knew when my wife was struggling and would sit and talk her through it. Helen’s very caring, and when we had bad times as a family, she helped emotionally and is very supportive. Whenever she’s in the area, Helen drops by, long after the case settled.
The money is in a trust fund. We bought a bungalow for easy access, with a field for my dogs, and outbuildings. I love dogs and we hope to start up a Kennels business, as I need something to look forward to and keep me occupied. Life’s changed, but I could have been dead. It’s still hard on the anniversary of the accident, when memories come back for all of us.
I’m starting to get back into shooting with my sons. We’ve bought a quad bike to get around, and even if I can’t shoot, I can enjoy our times together. And with two granddaughters (with a third on the way) and a grandson, life’s still worthwhile.