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International Workers’ Memorial Day

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In light of International Workers’ Memorial Day (28 April), a former apprentice who was blinded in one eye following a shocking workplace accident is encouraging workers to speak up about safety concerns as he continues to rebuilds his life.   

Kane Ammerlaan, then 16-years-old, was six weeks into a tiling apprenticeship when he fell from a roof while carrying overloaded buckets of concrete; some of the concrete landing in his left eye.

Mr Ammerlaan, now 22, lost sight in one eye and is unable to return to physical work.

“As an apprentice, there is so much pressure to make a good impression on your colleagues, but this should not be at the expense of your health or life,” he said.

“If I carried buckets half full, my boss would throw concrete at me and insist I go back down and fill up the bucket; it was my first job, I was afraid if I objected I would be fired.

“Having sight in just one eye has affected my depth perception which means I can no longer climb ladders or work at heights. 

“I am living with a permanent disability which has not only prevented me from working in my trade, but has also destroyed my dream of becoming a police officer.

“No job is more important than your health and I hope that in telling my story, other young workers are aware of their right to speak up against tasks they believe to be unsafe.”

A recent survey commissioned by Slater and Gordon of more than 1000 Australians revealed 42 per cent of workers have undertaken a task at work they believe was unsafe.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Jana Athanasopoulos said she has seen too many instances where a worker was not comfortable standing up to their employer in fear of losing their job.

“In what can be just a matter of seconds, someone’s life can change dramatically and it is up to all of us to make sure these incidents are avoided,” Ms Athanasopoulos said.

“What is most alarming from our research is that over half (54%) of these recipients said they undertook an unsafe task because of pressure from their boss or fear of losing their job if they refused. 

“While it is important for every workplace to have safety procedures in place, they are useless if employees feel that speaking up about safety concerns could cost them their job.

“Every employer has a responsibility to create and maintain a safe workplace to ensure Australian workers arrive home safely on International Workers’ Memorial Day and every other day of the year.” 

Mr Ammerlaan says he is still one of the lucky ones.

“Although my life has completely changed since the accident, the circumstances could have been so much worse.”