Trust you gut, workplace injury victim tells gathering

If there is a lesson Matthew Bowcott wants others to learn from an almost life-ending workplace accident he suffered 15 years ago, it's to trust your instincts.

"My body, I guess tried to warn me that night, I didn't listen to it," Bowcott said in an interview after telling his story at the annual Day of Mourning service, held Friday at the Workers Memorial.

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In 2002, a then 19-year-old Bowcott was working the evening shift in the kitchen of a Langley restaurant.

As part of his closing duties, he had emptied the deep fryers and was carrying a 10-gallon saucepot of hot oil for disposal.

But because his employer wanted to save a couple hours in wages - they were making about $10 an hour at the time - his co-worker was asked to spray down the kitchen floor so one of them could go home early.

Bowcott had doubts but kept going.

"I walked through that wet floor, disregarding that (feeling)," Bowcott said. "I didn't listen to it. I took a step and then another step, my feet went sideways and oil that measured 375 degrees spilled over the upper half of my body."

Bowcott said it was only good fortune that he is able to speak about it today.

The oil came within a quarter inch of his eyes, nose and mouth. Had he swallowed it, his organs would have been burned, and he would not have survived.

Three other "flukes" occurred.

A co-worker quickly turned a water hose on him after learning during a first aid course he had taken only three days before that dousing a burn victim in cold water is among the immediate actions to take.

Next, two ambulance attendants and their vehicle happened to be out in the parking lot during a coffee break and they were quickly able to attend to Bowcott.

He was taken to hospital but by that time his trachia had become so swollen doctors were unable to get an intubation tube down his throat.

Fortunately, another doctor who had been dealing with another patient in the emergency room figured out what to do and just on time. He had gone without oxygen for 70 seconds and his heart had stopped.

With a supply of oxygen now in place, Bowcott was brought back to life.

"I am so lucky that I'm alive, that I get a chance to make a difference for somebody else," Bowcott told the more than 100 people who attended the gathering.

"But the thing is, our employers don't always make the job safe for us. It's not just the the employer is taking advantage of us - they could be in the office on the computer, on the phone, ordering stock, they don't always know what goes on on the floor."

Bowcott said he now trusts his instincts much more. He now works as a deckhand on a tugboat, considered a high-risk job, and has not had a serious injury.

Proper training, knowing your rights and being able to say no to what's dangerous are the ingredients for avoiding the trouble he went through, Bowcott said.

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