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Hurt at work, PoCo teen helping others

Jack Thomas is taking his show on the road.
Jack Thomas

Jack Thomas is taking his show on the road.

But the Port Coquitlam drummer who lost his arm in a workplace accident two years ago won’t be sitting behind his kit when he gets in front of crowds in the coming months.

Instead, the 19-year-old has teamed up with WorkSafeBC and will be talking to young people across the province about workplace safety.

“This can happen to anybody at any age,” said Thomas, who will be part of the Listen to Your Gut campaign. “The message we want to get across is that it is OK to say no to unsafe situations in the workplace.

“That is something I didn’t think about.”

Thomas was 17 and working a summer job at a recycling facility when he was hurt on the job. The then-Terry Fox secondary student was sorting items near a conveyor belt when his sleeve got caught in the machinery; his right arm was severed just above the elbow.

“When I woke up, I made an effort not to look down so as not to panic,” he said. “I ran outside and yelled for help, and asked someone to grab my hand. I had my eyes shut and couldn’t feel my arm, so I asked the man if [it] was there.”

Today, Thomas often thinks about the warning signs he should have heeded leading up to his injury.

He had bronchitis and probably shouldn’t have even been at work that day but was wary of calling in sick because he didn’t want to let his boss down, he said.

As a young worker, he added, he often encountered situations at different jobs that he deemed unsafe but didn’t feel he was able to talk to his employer about the issues. 

“I just wanted to work,”  he said. “I didn’t want to disappoint anyone… If someone has been there for a few years, it is easier. For a kid, it might be a little nerve-racking to talk to the higher-ups.”

Thomas has already told his story to students at Merritt secondary and at a parent advisory council meeting in Surrey. When the school year gets underway in September, he said he expects to connect with more students and encourage them to speak out when they see safety issues in the workplace. 

Trudi Rondou, a senior manager at WorkSafeBC, said stories like Thomas’ help raise awareness among young people. 

She added that WorkSafeBC will also be reaching out to companies with short videos titled “What I Know Now,” with employers talking about their first jobs and what they learned. 

“All young-worker injuries and deaths are unacceptable,” she said. “We want to address reservations young workers may have about raising safety concerns with their bosses, encourage them to trust their instincts and help them understand their rights and responsibilities on the job.”

In the meantime, Thomas is still busy focusing on his music career and hasn’t let the loss of his arm slow down his drumming.

Less than two weeks after his workplace accident, Thomas used his first day pass from the hospital to attend Rock School at Terry Fox secondary. 

Today, after a lot of practise, he said his left hand is just as strong as his right was, and he plays in two bands — Ethreia and Wasted Breath — while attending the Nimbus School for Recording and Media. 

“It is my dream come true,” he said of attending audio engineering school. “I am still drumming consistently and I am working on my own band’s album right now.”

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