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A Bendigo man is warning other workers not to ignore injuries, after his neck was crushed from repetitive movements, requiring two major surgeries. His workplace, a carpet manufacturer, was found to be negligent in the Supreme Court in Bendigo recently, for unsafe work practices.

Wayne Magee had been working in the industry for about 20 years, when his neck pain and a numb sensation down the side of his body began. He had been looking up and flexing his neck for prolonged periods, to watch bobbins on machines, as well as undertaking heavy lifting above his head.

“The symptoms I was getting were pins and needles in the left hand, on one side and down to the leg. I got it looked into because my knees went numb. Then I had numbness in my thumb and index finger and then the feeling started to travel down my left side into my knees,” Mr Magee said.

“In 2015, I reported what was going on to my workplace but they more or less did nothing.

“I didn’t know what was causing it. After an MRI scan, I kept working for another six weeks and then the specialist told me I did not have multiple sclerosis or carpal tunnel. He said what was happening with my neck was sinister.

“My spinal cord was being crushed due to disc prolapses in my neck and I needed an urgent operation.” he said.

After the operation, he tried to return to work but it was unsuccessful.

“This work was in an office. Because of severity of the injury, even the office work was putting me in more pain,” he said.

“I needed two operations, where they first entered through the neck and then the throat, in order to fuse the neck in place, because part of my neck had collapsed. All I needed was a hit on the back with an object and I would have been wheelchair bound.”

He said the impact of his injury had been significant for he and his family.

“Some days my wife has to help me get dressed. My wife had to learn to drive in Melbourne for all these appointments. The uncertainty and seeing me in pain has been hard,” he said.

“I’m not able to enjoy life like I used to. It changes your life completely in the way you look at things now. I’ll never return to work and I haven’t been able to play with my son, who is now seven. There’s been a lot of missed years where I should have been able to teach him things.”

A positive has been that Mr Magee has been able to encourage his friends and colleagues to go to the doctor and seek medical help.

“Colleagues have looked at my injury and seen the damage that has happened and some people have started to look at their life and take other paths,” he said.

“Everyone is different. If you’ve got symptoms, don’t tell yourself it’s going to go away, get it looked into. Some workplaces may look after you. Others are not willing to take it on board and discourage you to explore your WorkCover entitlements and rights."

He thanked Strathdale Medical Centre for their care.

Slater and Gordon Bendigo Workers’ Compensation Associate, Jennifer Lay said Mr Magee’s workplace had been found by a jury to have breached the OHS manual handling regulations and had failed to provide a duty of care to Mr Magee.

“Wayne was able to gain closure from the process and can walk away with certainty and confidence in securing the future for him and his family,” Ms Lay said.

“This jury verdict sends a strong message that employers must take active steps to ensure they meet their duty of care and comply with legislation. There were many ways this workplace could have reduced the risk of injury, such as automated overhead loaders, use of scissor lifts or higher platforms to avoid over-head lifting. All these measures could have prevented this significant and incapacitating injury for Mr Magee."

Ms Lay hopes it encourages employees to speak up earlier, if they feel their workplace is not safe.

“Everyone deserves to be safe in the workplace and not to feel obliged that they have to put themselves at risk of serious injury to get the job done and continue earning a living,” she said.

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