After suffering a life-changing fall from height, Dylan Skelhorn’s story should be a salutary lesson to all those who ignore health and safety procedures
My name is Dylan Skelhorn and I’m 36 years of age. In June 2011, I was working as a solid fuel heating engineer for a small chimney specialist and roofing company, which employed eight to ten people at a time.
I had started working with the company as a labourer but, because of the keenness and enthusiasm that I displayed in the role, was asked by my employer to train as a HETAS engineer after just one month in the job.
From day one, I was shown the wrong practices and instructed to work unsafely, especially when working at height – and 95 per cent of the work that the company did was at height.
Given that I had previously been a retained firefighter for six years, and knew how to work safely at height, and the dangers involved with it, I questioned these practices immediately but, after making my concerns known to my employer, I was basically told that this was the way we do it here, and if I didn’t want to work this way, I could go and find another job.
It was 2009 and, with the UK in the midst of a recession, work was scarce and I was fearful of losing my job, so I continued with the company.
When I was being taught to carry out chimney sweeping, I asked why we don’t have safety harnesses within the company as we were told to sweep chimneys from the top of the chimney stack (on the roof) rather than the proper way, which is from the bottom of the chimney (inside the house) and much safer.
My employer answered this query of mine by telling me that the company had a ‘special dispensation’ from the Health and Safety Executive that allowed them to work at height without using any fall protection equipment, especially when chimney sweeping due to it being ‘short duration’ work and, because there was nowhere to attach a safety harness on the roof and to tie ourselves to a chimney stack, it would be unsafe if the stack was to collapse as it would drag anyone attached to it with it.
I had asked to see this dispensation and was told I wasn’t allowed to. This made me suspicious, and I got that gut feeling that most of us get when we know that something we’re doing is wrong, and our sixth sense has kicked in to warn us of it.
Speaking from hindsight now, my advice to anyone who gets that gut feeling is to listen to it – it’s there for a good reason. If what you are doing doesn’t feel right or look right, stop, take five seconds to think about it and if it still doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
It could be the difference of the rest of your life being ruined because of injury, or even worse. It’s a bit late for me now but it’s not for you. My accident has ruined my life and affected my family, friends and colleagues’ lives, among others.
After my accident, my employer typed up a fake document which he claimed was the HSE Dispensation and the Health and Safety Executive told me that nobody gets a dispensation to work at height unsafely and without fall protection equipment. I spoke up about safety but I didn’t act on my words when that gut feeling kicked in, therefore the accident happened.
On the day of the accident, I was asked to sweep chimneys with a colleague and while carrying out one of the many jobs that day, I fell 33 feet from a chimney stack that I was standing on, which had collapsed due to age and rotten internal rebar, which I could not see.
I landed on a garden wall which broke two of my ribs, punctured my right lung and snapped my pelvis on both sides.
I’m now 40 per cent disabled and have degenerative arthritis in my pelvis. I take a cocktail of up to 744 pills a month, which is just under 9,000 a year, I regularly use crutches to walk and have severe chronic pain and a bladder infection that I got in hospital from the incorrect installation of a catheter.
My life has changed for the worse. I can no longer go to the gym, which I had done for 14 years before my accident and I miss that so much.
After the accident, I was followed and filmed excessively by the insurance company who were responsible for paying my compensation in case I was doing something wrong that they could use against me in court. The government stopped my benefits and said that I was fit to return to work on crutches.
That’s the other side of the accident that I want to show – it’s not just the physical pain that hurts. So many people have been affected by my accident including eight of my work colleagues who lost their jobs when the company closed due to my accident. It’s estimated that when someone has a serious accident, on average, 44 people will be directly affected.
If me sharing my story stops just one person going through what myself, my family, friends and colleagues have had to go through all because of something I did at work one day that I knew I shouldn’t be doing, then it’s worth sharing and I’ll continue to do so for as long as possible.
Take the 5 seconds.
Take care and stay safe.
For more information on Dylan’s safety initiative Safety Up, click here.