It's Worth it to Me

On a Saturday morning in 1987, the house was quiet for a nine-year-old boy. He lit a piece of paper from the fire in the fireplace and walked to the garage.

By Matt Forck

On a Saturday morning in 1987, the house was quiet for a nine-year-old boy. He lit a piece of paper from the fire in the fireplace and walked to the garage. His parents were out of the house and he was careful not to wake his older brother.

Once in the garage, he found a five-gallon gas can. Months earlier, before the snow and cold weather, he saw older boys pouring gasoline on the ground and lighting it-and then laughing at the poof. It was his turn to try.

Containing over three gallons of gasoline, the gas can was heavy. He couldn't carry the gas can in one hand and the paper in the other. He decided he would set the paper down and dribble a few drops of gasoline on top of the flame.

The blast could be heard for blocks. And there, in his pajamas, nine-year-old John O'Leary was burned over nearly 100 percent of his body. Eighty-five percent of the burns were third degree. The doctors gave him less than a 1 percent chance of living through the first night.

John did make it through the first night-and then another. The path for John, however, was difficult and agonizing. He spent more than 130 days in the hospital. He endured over two-dozen surgeries. He was on the operating table so much he would joke, "What other nine year old has his own anesthesiologist?" John missed school and underwent agonizing physical therapy to stretch his joints. The most painful thing for his parents was signing the surgery consent form to remove John's fingers. The doctors kept his fingers as long as they could, but there was no life left in them. John, a nine-year-old boy, was left with only a few partial fingers and no thumbs.

Years later, John tried to water ski. Plastic surgery had moved a finger to the thumb position, and John was miraculously able to write, type and even play the piano. But, while watching friends ski, he felt had to try.

If you have ever water-skied, you know the grip strength it takes to hold on to the rope. The rope was ripped from his hands on the first try. He tried again, trying to use the back of his hands. He tried again, using the inside of his elbow. He was repeatedly thrown into the water. Each time he tried again. After more than a dozen attempts, John's hands and arms were bleeding. His friends stopped the boat and said "John get in, it's not worth it." He responded, "It's worth it to me."

He tried again-and again. And, before the day was over, John O'Leary water-skied. He had bleeding arms and bruised hands, but it was worth it to him.

In safety, we sometimes fail. And, it is often hard. Sometimes we quit. We stop confronting a co-worker because he or she didn't listened to our suggestions the 12 previous times. We stop bringing near misses to our work group because no one seems to care or other confrontations might result. We stop pointing out hazards because no one seems to listen. We also stop following a few safety rules.

When it comes to safety, is it worth it? I know my answer, and I know what John would say-what's your call?

About the Author: Matt Forck, CSP & JLW, is a leading voice in safety. Matt keynotes conferences and consults industry on safety's most urgent topics such as safety awareness, employee engagement and motivation, cultural alignment, accountability and leadership. To learn more about Matt, book a presentation or download free safety tools, go to

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