Familiar is not the same as safe

When James Gorry fell from a factory roof, he was doing a job he’d done hundreds of times before in exactly the same way he’d always done it.

In 2005, James Gorry was running his own construction company, and had 25-years’ experience including being the person responsible for health and safety. So how was it he fell 26 feet from a roof?

The answer, as is so often the case, was that he was doing something he had done many times before without incident and had become oblivious to the risks.

Stop and think says James Gorry
Stop and think says James Gorry

“I was quite comfortable being up on the roof,” says James. “I had always done it that way. I didn’t see it as a problem.”

James’ company had taken on the repair of the roof of a galvanising plant in Dublin. The first day’s work had been completed and the safety equipment had been moved to a different part of the roof ready for the next day.

But, as boss, James’ job was to inspect the work that had already been completed and that meant going on to the roof where there were no guide rails without a harness or lanyard.

James has no memory of what happened next. He awoke from a coma three months later with injuries to his head, lungs and back. And despite the best efforts of physiotherapists at Dun Laoghaire hospital, James is in a wheelchair and will never walk again.

“I became a slip and trip statistic,” he says wryly. “But I’d always done things that way and, in reality, I didn’t want to know about the risks. I didn’t see it as a risk. With hindsight, obviously, I was wrong.”

“I became a slip and trip statistic. I’d always done things that way and, in reality, I didn’t want to know about the risks”

These days, James is a motivational speaker on health and safety. He uses the story of his own accident and his long hospital treatment to persuade people to think differently about their own jobs.

A 26 foot fall left James Gorry in a wheelchair
A 26 foot fall left James Gorry in a wheelchair.
Picture by Erich Ferdinand

“Even though it may be something you do time and again, you have to stop and think about it,” he says. “Because there can be huge consequences and the person who suffers is you. If you have an accident, it changes your life forever.”

In fact, the accident that left James in a wheelchair probably happened when he slipped on debris on the roof.

It wasn’t his company’s job to deal with the debris but nonetheless it was James who paid the price.

“I knew the housekeeping wasn’t right,” he says, “but I didn’t address it because I didn’t think it was my problem. But the truth is it’s my responsibility to look after myself.”

This is James’ message: safety is everyone’s responsibility. You have to take the time to inspect visually and assess the risks on every job, no matter how familiar the task is.

“Stop and think,” he says. “It need only take 30 seconds.”

James Gorry can be contacted through his website www.jamesgorry.ie