Ep 23 Dallas Adams tragically lost 2 family members to workplace fatalities & now is using this to spread his safety message

Brendan: Welcome to Episode 23 of the Australian Health and Safety business podcast. I’m Brendan Torazzi, the host of the show. Today, I’m with Dallas Adams from DC Adams Group. Is that right Dallas?

Dallas: That’s it. Thank you.

Brendan: Thanks for coming on the show. It was just yesterday that we had a chat. You’ve got a really a heartfelt story I feel that perhaps I’ll let you introduce what has happened over the last 15 or so years for you and how you’ve turned this into a massive positive for other.

Dallas: It’s pretty heartfelt. What I have felt in the last 15 years now is two workplace fatalities. I’ve actually experienced four in my time in construction that I’ve been involved in and personally involved in too. Out of those four, two of them were family members. From those two family members I’ve developed and now presenting a presentation I call Why Safety Matters? I’ve got a background that spans over 25 years in mining, underground construction, tunnelling and I’ve also got an electrical trade.

Brendan: If we rewind back because you weren’t originally in safety were you? It was these incidents that have kind of propelled you down this avenue.

Dallas: It’s only been the last two years since developing Why Safety Matters but I think when you say I haven’t been in safety, when you’re in construction safety is there. I think everyone is involved in safety not just the safety professionals or safety department. It’s just broaden in different ways I supposed. What I believe and specially my involvement in construction over 25 years coming in 25 years ago, it wasn’t probably as strong as it is today but saying that awareness was pretty full on but then the last two years I actually went back to school. I did my cert 4 and my diploma in work health and safety purely because of what I was talking about, what I had experienced and wanting to learn more about it and to understand what is involved. That is where I have come with my safety side even though what I present is a safety story but it’s more a personal story that I wanted to get out there and share which is what I call Why Safety Matters.

Brendan: I think you raised a really good point that it’s not an us and them mentality when it comes to safety. It’s really everybody has to play their part to make sure that workplaces are safe.

Dallas: I didn’t make that up. I think that was just how it was for me. You’re always told to slow down, look out and look up and things like that. That was really our way of communicating when it came to safety. You had your safety advisors and everything like that which were good but you never really went to them as much as you do now in my experience way back then but now I believe they would be the most important part of the construction process now what they have to do from what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced. They play a real critical role.

Brendan: Are you comfortable sharing exactly what happened with those two fatalities? From what we spoke about yesterday that to me is the story that really brings it home to every worker that I think a lot of people go through life thinking that oh, this stuff could never happen to me. When it does happen to you that is when it becomes super real.

Dallas: This could never happen to me. It was my family. I’ve been involved in this industry for so long. My father was a tunneler and a miner. My grandfather was a tunneler and a miner. My brother and I were third generation. We were born into this industry. To think that my brother and my father lost their lives in the industry. It was hard. It took a toll on me. It took a toll on my family. Developing Why Safety Matter was through emotions and what I had experienced and through that pain but what I had done with it was I turned it into something that I believed was a positive. I looked at a new direction to go with what I had experienced.

My father’s accident was involved on a tunnelling project in 2017. My father was struck by a pressurized water pipe that dislodged from its bracket. His injuries from that bracket that broke and that pipe that hit him unfortunately the injuries were very sever and my father lost his life not long after he was struck. My brother’s accident was in 2004 when he was working in an underground mining project. He was operating a tunnel boring machine and was killed in a rock fall. Both those accidents they definitely had their toll on me. The outcomes and the consequences were the same but what I had done with both of them was totally different.

My brother’s accident 2004, I pretty much bottled it up and I couldn’t speak about it. I had to go back to work to maintain my lifestyle and I just kept it quiet in my own mind which affected me personally yet I had to get back to work and carry on with what I was doing.

Brendan: How old were you at that time?

Dallas: I was 29. I just started a young family. We were living in Sydney. I was working on a tunnelling project in Sydney and my brother was working in a mine in the Hunter Valley. He was actually working with my father at the time. My father and my brother were working together and his accident occurred when they were on shift together. From that time to my father’s accident, I didn’t speak about what was involved or anything. I definitely wasn’t doing what I’m doing now. My brother’s accident, I struggled to come to terms with it. I couldn’t accept what had happened. I struggled with grief. I was very angry and things like that which took a toll over that time. I didn’t actually know how to talk about it to be honest as well. I was told about getting help and posters were there and all that sort of stuff but I was probably in that frame of mind that you didn’t want to talk about it. It hurt that much to be able to talk about it.

Brendan: What about your dad at that time? Did he get support from where he was working? What was the follow up from that?

Dallas: To be honest, no. He was very similar. He had come from that old school mentality as well. I definitely saw that change in him that is for sure. It was instant. He changed. His moods. Things that he was doing naturally became pretty hard. He was quite good at social events and drinking and having a good time to just shutting up shop, not wanting to go out or do things that he used to do. I thought in my mind that is what is he did as well so that is pretty much I went about it as well thinking this is just what you do which took a toll on all of us to be honest. It wasn’t easy. I supposed ones that were around us they took the brunt of it as well.

Brendan: I can feel it but I can’t imagine what that would have been like.

Dallas: That is why I developed Why Safety Matters and I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing over the last two years. You can only imagine when you read about it which I had done prior to. I have been involved or been around mining incidents and stuff like that too or read in the papers. We had toolboxes on someone that has been killed in the mine and all that sort of stuff but until you’re involved in it that it’s hard but what I wanted to do was to bring that reality out as much as I could or the best way that I could. I thought by developing something and then going out and physically doing it myself would not only help others but would also help me which it has. It has definitely helped me to be able to do what I’m doing now.

Brendan: Share the story with many and lighten the load and also make a difference at the same time. It’s amazing.

Dallas: I think helping people too also is a positive and that helps you knowing that you can help someone else is also taken that pressure off me bottling it all up. That is what I had been doing for 13 years prior to my father’s accident 2017 where I wasn’t doing any of that. I was bottling it up and the pressure was mounting and mounting over that time. My father’s accident that was something that came out from left field. You’re never ready for anything like this but I had to step up the best way that I could. When I talk you can definitely see the emotions of how it affected me but to be able to contain them is hard. For me, I had to.

Brendan: That was the trigger turning point that you went okay, I’m going to turn this into a positive and help myself and really spread a message that I’m sure without a doubt is changing a lot of lives and actually getting cut through with people that don’t take safety as seriously as they need to.

Dallas: I’ve been presenting it for the last two years across Australia and New Zealand. The feedback has been great and very inspiring for me to hear. That was the trigger and the turning point for me in my life. That is the direction that I went down. It actually encouraged me to find out more which is why I went and studied work health and safety. That was just the start of many doors that I wanted to open because I think our industry gives you a lot of opportunities but you still have to go and look for those doors if you really want them. As brutal and as tragic as my father’s accident was it actually got me off my little comfort zone and started knocking on these doors which has been amazing. It’s something that I would love to encourage other people to do without going through this event or this tragic event that I’ve gone through.

That is how I want to deliver it because there is so much to learn and I just started off with safety because of my message but the direction that I’m heading is along the lines of trying to learn as much as I can, spread a good word, tell people that construction is important for not only you as a job but for so many other people in the way they live and the way they live and the way they want to live for Australia and for a city and for everything like that. Bring the bigger picture of what we’re doing so you’d really feel proud of doing what you’re doing.

Brendan: I wanted to focus in on the last two years. How did you open that first talk because obviously that was probably one of the hardest ones to open? How did you get started with Why Safety Matters?

Dallas: I’m actually originally from New Zealand. My father was working on a Sydney project. I lived in Brisbane. My father’s accident was in Sydney. We had to come to Sydney and we had to go through all the coroner and all that sort of stuff straight after dad’s accident. When I had come from my job and all that down to Sydney, I naturally met the company, the management and everything like that. They were there waiting for our family to turn up. During that time from Brisbane to Sydney my head was spinning. To get that phone call not only the first time but the second time to get that phone call my head was spinning but because I had been in the industry so long. I had mates that were on their project or I had cousins, relations and all that sort of working on these projects as well. My phone was ringing red hot minutes after the word got out after my father’s accident. My head was spinning. We got flown down to Sydney, met and taken to the hospital.

My initial thoughts coming from 13 years of being angry and depressed about my brother to wanting to come down there and go what the hell to meeting a man at the airport who had driven from that project through Sydney traffic to wait in the airport to meet a family that he is going to meet for the first time with this sort of news. I stepped off that plane and I felt sorry for him to be honest. I felt he didn’t want this. No one wants this but this is what has happened.

What they did from thereon and I take my hat off to them. You can’t plan for this. It blew me away. That period of that time there is a process that you go through. We went through the hospital. We viewed my father and all that sort of stuff. Then from there he goes to the coroner and you go through that stage. You’re waiting. You’re waiting there. With our culture and what we’re from and what we believe in we’ve got to make plans. Thirteen years prior we had to do the same thing. Our plans back then were to take my brother back to New Zealand where we’re from. In this case I didn’t even live in Sydney. I thought about it. I have spoken to my mother and I said, I don’t want to do that I’m afraid. I need to do something here, right here. My friends that I’ve been with for the last 20 odd years in these projects here. I want to do something here. She agreed. She said okay, let’s do it.

I had my father serviced in Sydney. I was told, I didn’t count them but it was close to 2000 people that turned up. I had a eulogy and I spoke but I was blown away with the support. I think from that moment if I can send a message to 2000 people on that day. What can I do for the industry? I didn’t realize what was involved. I almost jumped the gun. I thought at the time like the weekend after hang on, shit. The support was really, I had 2000 people at my father’s service supporting me but I had thousands of others out there as well. I consider myself lucky. The project that my father worked on, the company, they opened the door and said, Dallas there is opportunity here if you wanted to do something and I did.

We started it August 7, 2017 I did my first presentation of Why Safety Matters. I’ve done some hard things in my life but it was one of the hardest things that I ever had to do but it was unreal. It was a relief to finally get it out and to open up about my brother’s accident because I haven’t been able to do that in any shape, way or form, anything prior to that but to finally get it out was life saving for me. From thereon they networked for me. They helped me in so many ways. Then our industry as big as it can be it’s quite small and unique. Once the word got out that I was doing this presentation, I was talking about my brother and my father wanting to help and build an awareness sort of side of my story and my messages. It just opened up for me. The doors were opened. It’s being ongoing for the last two years now.

Brendan: Is it a full time thing for you now?

Dallas: It has been. I still miss what I was doing. I didn’t leave what I was doing because I didn’t like it. I actually loved it. I loved every part of it but I just felt this was probably more important in my life at this stage. It made me feel good which is what I wanted to do. Everyone wants to feel good about something in their life and this was making me feel good. I had the support. The network was great and I was meeting so many other people within the industry that I would have never have met any other way which have been great for me as well opening those doors. Safety has been a highlight but there’s other opportunities that I’d like to go from there. One of them for me is training, mentoring, the educational side of our industry. Educating young kids or even people that have come from a different background but want to give tunnelling or construction a go and giving them the heads up of what I’ve experienced without scaring them but then encouraging them. Giving them that insight or that heads up of what it’s like but then putting a big of gloss in them so that they’re excited about what they’re going into and changing a few things that could possibly better the industry. Putting my own little touch on a few things that hopefully will help the future and things like that.

Brendan: It sounds like you’ve been put in a unique position to really make a difference.

Dallas: When someone asks me what do I want to do that was the first thing that I said. I want to make a difference. I probably didn’t know back then what sort of difference but now two years later chipping away at little things that have opened up other avenues. It’s definitely making a difference.

Brendan: How long does the talk go for when you give this presentation or are there few different variations?

Dallas: Not really. If a company wanted me for a conference obviously they’ve got a scheduled and I’ve been given half an hour. I don’t like delivering a message and taking bits out. If I gave a full presentation you’ve got to give me an hour because you’ll feel the full effect of it. That time is every part of my presentation there’s a journey within the presentation itself. There’s so much to absorb. The question and answers are just as important too. Even if there’s so much to absorb people will sit there wanting to ask me something but they’ve got to word it the right way because it’s so emotional and so effective. After that hour, I stay around. That is probably the most important part for me. I don’t want to leave that project or that conference knowing that people actually wanted to talk to me about certain things one on one or face to face or privately which is beautiful. That is brilliant but a 45 minute presentation you’ll still get the same effect. Half an hour I don’t want to rush things.

Brendan: It sounds like 45 minutes is the minimum. I can only imagine the amount of questions that you’re going to have. You could do probably half an hour of questions.

Dallas: It can be but obviously there’s different speakers. Like I said, different setups. Conferences obviously they’ve got the spaces which fair enough. The thing I like about them is you have those interval breaks and you can always come and talk to me during them. Projects, when I get a toolbox talks or meetings like that, pre-starts and all that. I can stay for as long as I want or whenever the project wants me to.

Brendan: Thank you so much for sharing your story today with us. If listeners want to get in contact with you how is the best way to do that?

Dallas: I have a website www.WhySafetyMatters.com.au.

Brendan: I guess that is probably the easiest way and LinkedIn. Thank you so much. If you’ve been enjoying the show don’t forget to subscribe and share it with friends. See you next time.

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