Being forced to choose between life and limb

During a shocking workplace accident in 2007, Gerald Wilkie was forced to do something that no one should ever have to contemplate – decide between life and limb.

The father-of-three was working as a leading hand at a Victorian recycling business when his glove got caught in the conveyor belt of the rock crushing machine he was operating. His hand and arm were dragged into the crusher and he had to fight furiously to stop the rest of his body from being sucked in as well.

The terrible workplace injury that changed his life

It was 17 May 2007. Gerald’s life flashed before his eyes as he searched for an emergency switch to halt the machine. When that failed, he realised that to survive, his only option was to use his body weight to break his arm and then use a jagged bone to cut the muscle and tear his arm off.

Still in shock and full of adrenaline, he then walked 90 metres around the other side of the machine and used his foot to kick on the emergency switch. While continuing to stem the uncontrollable bleeding, he got his mobile phone out of his pocket and telephoned his manager to call an ambulance.

Paramedics arrived soon after and Gerald was rushed to The Alfred hospital for emergency surgery. He was placed in an induced coma and once he was well enough to be discharged, he endured months of rehabilitation to get used to life without a major limb.

Returning to work became problematic due to his balance problems, and the limited roles he could fulfil. When post-traumatic stress set in, he was unable to return to work at all.

Workcover fight was as bad as losing a limb

Gerald admits that he thought the worst of his workplace injury nightmare was over when he woke up alive in hospital. But he soon realised that the battle with his workcover insurer was going to be much harder that losing his arm.

It took the insurer five years to agree to modify Gerald’s manual car to an automatic to give him back some independence. And 10 years on, he is still fighting to get a prosthetic limb to help get some normality back in his life.

Sadly, Gerald’s experience mirrors that of many of our clients who have been injured at work through no fault of their own who have had to fight their way through the workers’ compensation system. He went from being a very trustful and compliant person to someone understandably angry about the way he was treated, which included being put under surveillance by the workcover insurer.  

PODCAST: Choosing between life and limb – Gerald Wilkie

“I was looking death right in the face and I thought I’ve got to get out of here,” Gerald Wilkie recalls of the day he was forced to decide between life and limb. In the Fighting For Fair podcast, he bravely recounts the terrifying moment his arm got caught in the machine, before detailing the aftermath and his fight to return to work.

Listen to the podcast below, or subscribe on iTunes.

TOPIC: Work rights
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Liberty Sanger

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Liberty Sanger is a Principal, Board member and Practice Group Leader at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, co-leading the Victorian WorkCover and Road Accident injuries (TAC) departments. Liberty is a qualified Law Institute of Victoria Personal Injury Accredited Specialist and she is recognised by the prestigious Doyles Guide as one of only five leading lawyers in workers' compensation in Victoria. Liberty says she became a lawyer to help people. “I love getting excellent results for my clients. The process of obtaining compensation can be very stressful and confusing. Having to navigate your way through the WorkCover system at the same time as dealing with the consequences of your injury and the permanent changes to your life and life plans can be completely overwhelming. Knowing this, I am driven to make sure that I take that stress away from my clients and get them the best result possible. I have been told by many clients that having Maurice Blackburn on their side from the beginning of their claim took a load off their mind, and that the compensation I have obtained for them has made a real difference to their lives. Knowing the approach to my work and the outcomes I achieve has had that impact on their lives is incredibly satisfying.” Liberty is Chair of Maurice Blackburn’s Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, which is charged with recommending strategies and initiatives to the Board to ensure that every employee feels comfortable to bring their whole unique self to work and thrive in an accepting and supportive environment. She has also been appointed Chair of the Victorian Government’s Equal Workplaces Advisory Council as part of their Gender Equality Strategy. The Council has been asked to identify government action that will promote the achievement of gender equality, to identify promote and publish good practice examples of initiatives that work to promote gender equality and to consider the issues and linkages relating to pay equity, equality and productivity to achieve equitable outcomes for women and men. "While we've achieved a lot, there is still a long way to go. When you look at the data, you see significant gaps in the areas of pay, leadership and workforce participation, and a grossly disproportionate representation of women affected by family violence, bullying and harassment. And there can’t be any explanation for this other than differential treatment of the genders. The good news is that we can take action to redress all of these things. While it will take courage and leadership from all of us to do so, we will all benefit when we get there," says Liberty. Liberty was raised in Wodonga and stayed true to her roots while progressing social agendas on national platforms through a number of political and community organisations. A self-confessed “committed unionist and opinionated chatterbox”, Liberty regularly voices her views on The Friday Wrap with Jon Faine on 774 Melbourne radio, by reviewing newspapers on ABC News Breakfast with Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland, and as a regular panelist on Politics HQ on Sky TV. She has also been a guest on the ABC’s Q & A TV show.  Memberships & accreditations Law Institute of Victoria Member Law Institute of Victoria Personal Injury Accredited Specialist Australian Lawyers Alliance Member Maurice Blackburn Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee Chair (2017-present) Melbourne Olympic Parks Trust Member (2017-present) Equal Workplaces Advisory Council Chair (2017-present) McKell Institute Advisory Board member (2016-present) YWCA Life Member Emergency Services State Super Fund Board Director (2010-2013) Federation Square Pty/Ltd Board Director (2009-2012) Victoria Law Foundation Board Director (2004-2009) Liquor Control Advisory Council Chair (2006-2009) Media Code of Conduct Working Group on Body Image Chair (2007-2008) Awards Doyles Guide leading lawyer, 2016 ...

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