How to cut off your thumb?


When I was in my late teens, health & safety was something I didn’t care much for. I worked long hours, rode a motorbike, had a completely inadequate amount of sleep and generally thought of health & safety laws as ‘political correctness gone mad!’.

When I was 19, I took a job as a metalworker in a metal plating factory. I had been working as a sales person since I was 15 and the 2008 recession hadn’t been kind to me. Then, in an attempt to earn as much as possible, I started delivering pizzas in the evening and working weekends as a laborer on a building site for my old man.

Not only that, but I also liked to go to Happy Hardcore parties at the weekends, further depriving my body of much-needed sleep (A saying from my grandma is ringing in my ears as I write this – ‘You can’t burn the candle from both ends’).

One day, after working a solid 31 days, 16 hours a day, the inevitable happened!

Part of a brickies laborers job is to ‘mix-up’ cement. 6 shovels of sand and 1 of cement. On larger sites, the cement mixer is placed far away as to not contaminate the ground. These mixers are large, smelly, diesel machines that have an unbelievable amount of power.

The clouds were forming above, and I could feel the rain spitting, my dad said to put one more load of cement on before we get off for the day. I load up but after a day of mixing, the cement mixer is a bit sticky. Some cement was stuck on the edge and in this situation you should simply bang the top of the mixer with a shovel or SWITCH OFF the mixer and clean the edge before restarting.

What you should never do is put a shovel into a moving mixer…..

The blade in the mixer caught the shovel, crushed my thumb and lifted me up in the air before releasing me.

It happened fast!

I pulled my glove off and saw a nice amount of blood, but didn’t really feel any pain. I was 250 meters from the site office but saw a digger driver nearby. I walked over and despite being a large, tough-looking guy, he clearly couldn’t stomach the blood and sent me to the site office.

Long story short, my thumb was connected only by a small amount of flesh. It was hanging off, with the top part containing part of the broken bone. I went to surgery and listened while they drilled my bones and inserted 2 metal rods.


Now, this is ‘only’ a thumb. Luckily, I didn’t break my back (another common injury from putting a shovel into a mixer), fall from scaffolding or slip while using an angle grinder and cutting 50mm into my leg (all of which have happened to at least 1 person I know).

Injuries in these types of workplaces are common. They are scary and they upend peoples lives. Whatever industry you work in or wherever in the world, health & safety is important. Now, of course I am going to make this blog about NIVY Watch which could have been a great help to me as I stood shell shocked with what felt like 100km away from the site office, but technology as a whole can help improve safety and response times in situations like these.

It is our responsibility, not only as employers & innovators but morally – to protect the people who are working for us and with us.

All the things we take for granted – Electricity, Fuel, Running Water, Internet – even the homes we live in, someone has to work in an environment that is not completely safe. In order to have those luxuries, we must do all we can to minimize the risk of the workers who help deliver it.

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Dale Kirkwood
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