Safety Works 2006 Expo

Safety Works 2006 Expo

Fumes from a petroleum-soaked shirt ignited, as Charles T. Morecraft sprinted past an idling truck causing a refinery fire that cost him his way of life.

It never should have happened, Morecraft admits. But in 1980, he had a cavalier attitude regarding safety. On this particular night, he was comfortable. He had his feet up on his desk and he dreamed about his upcoming vacation, when a call came that interrupted his relaxing shift.

Morecraft is president of Phoenix Safety Management Inc., based in Florida. As the keynote speaker during SCF Arizona’s annual Safety Works Expo, March 7-8, at the Mesa Convention Center, Morecraft will tell his tale.

His story is one of survival and of learning a painful lesson. Morecraft was injured critically in the explosion at an Exxon refinery in Linden, N.J. He suffered burns to almost 50 percent of his body.

“Mostly I speak about attitude,” More-craft said during a telephone interview. “I speak to everyone regardless of their jobs. My story is not so much about the accident; it’s more about the pain I put my family through. That is what safety is about; going home at night to your wife and kids. Safety is personal.”

Morecraft admits that before the acci-dent he didn’t have a good attitude about safety. Like some of his colleagues, he didn’t always wear protective equipment.
“I would wear sunglasses to safety sessions so you couldn’t tell whether I was asleep,” he says. “As for (personal) protective equipment, a bunch of us considered it ‘cool’ not to wear all the safety gear issued. We thought we were a tough, macho bunch. We modified our PPE to suit our image.”

Never routine

His accident changed all that. Working one night, he was called to a job he had done thousands of times. He wore his cut-off, flame-retardant shirt, but did not put on his safety glasses. “When I got to the site, I left my truck running and ran up to the valves.”

Morecraft knew the valves leaked, because Exxon had targeted them for replacement during the refinery’s next shutdown. Because he considered the job routine, he says he didn’t follow
the procedures. When I went to fix the problem, the highly flammable petroleum product in the line surged up, splashed me in the eyes and drenched my shirt.”

When he cleared his eyes he knew he was in trouble. The truck still was running, so he took off in a sprint. It was too late. The chemical vapors hit the truck’s ignition system and an explosion engulfed Morecraft. He dived into a water puddle to douse the flames on him, but there was little he could do about the refinery.

Morecraft says he remembers the excruciating pain he felt while riding to the hospital in the ambulance. He yelled at the attendants “Let me die! Please let me die!”

That pain was only the beginning. Burn victims go through a process called debriding, which Morecraft explains is how doctors treat the skin to prevent the growth of scar tissue. “They lower you into a tank containing a combination of water, Clorox and antibiotics. Then they peel off the dead burned skin and then, day after day, the new scabs as they form.”

Family suffering

After three months of this process, Morecraft spent the next five years under-going 50 different operations. Morecraft’s last operation occurred only four years ago.

I had to admit to myself that before the accident I didn’t give a damn and I never had.

And he wasn’t the only one who suffered. “My family went through the living hell of seeing me suffer, while their own lives were completely disrupted,” Morecraft shares. “My family had to wonder if I would survive the first few days. Then they had to cope with living and growing up for five years while their father, husband and son was a helpless invalid.”

When he was able to work again, he returned to Exxon. “They couldn’t decide what to do with me, so they made me a safety officer,” he says. “I guess that’s what happens when you blow up a refinery.”

But even then, Morecraft did not accept his responsibility in the accident. “I blamed everyone else,” he says. “I hated everyone. I had a real chip on my shoulder.”

No more blame game

Those feelings finally got the best of him. Some of his buddies derided him for trying to make them follow safety proce-dures. “One day I just got sick of blaming others,” Morecraft says. “I had to admit to myself that before the accident I didn’t give a damn and I never had.”

By telling the story of his careless attitude , Morecraft says, “A great burden was lifted off my shoulders, and I stopped being a victim.”

His supervisors liked what they heard and asked him to tell his story at other Exxon facilities. Then Exxon put his story on videotape.

When Morecraft saw an advertisement from a Los Angeles video maker searching for material, he sent the company the tape. The producer liked it, tweaked it and made a safety video that has been translated into 10 languages.

After working 10 years at the refinery in the safety position, Morecraft left to start his own business. He now spreads his message about workplace safety, which he says is making a difference and is extremely rewarding.

“I was doing some work at coal mines in Utah, and one coal miner who heard me speak during the day asked if he could bring his son back that night,” Morecraft recalls. The miner explained that his son raced dirt bikes. “About a year later I went back to do a follow-up talk, and the guy comes up and starts crying as he tells me, ‘You saved my kid’s life.’”
Shortly after the son listened to More-craft, he was in a serious accident on his dirt bike, falling on his head. The man told Morecraft that his son never wore a helmet until after sitting through More-craft’s safety presentation.

Source: 12 summer 2005 az@work