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Australia deaths: My advice to builders planning move down under by man lucky to be alive after fracturing back on construction site

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 28/11/2015

Johnathan Graham was badly hurt in a building accident
Johnathan Graham was badly hurt in a building accident

A Co Down man has told how he is lucky not to have been killed in a construction site accident in Australia last year.

Johnathan Graham came forward to tell his story following the deaths of Ulstermen Gerard Bradley and Joe McDermott on a building site in Perth, Western Australia, this week.

The friends died after a panel fell on them at the apartment complex.

Doctors were initially worried that Johnathan would never walk again after breaking his back in three places when a large wooden beam fell on him while he was helping his employer build a conservatory.

However, he is now back on his feet and iattending university after spending six months in a wheelchair.

Johnathan wants to warn other young men who travel to Australia to work in construction to take care when it comes to choosing their employers.

The 25-year-old has recovered well from the physical trauma that left him paralysed down one side after the accident in Melbourne last November.

The Ulster University marketing student was in hospital in Australia for three-and-a-half-months before being transferred to the spinal ward of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast this February.

He says that not only is he lucky to be alive, but he is also fortunate that his mother Sandra insisted on taking out travel insurance for him, which covered his hospital and repatriation costs of more than £250,000.

Johnathan, who lives outside Ballynahinch, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I took a year out of university to go to Australia to work and travel.

"I was in Melbourne from August 2014 and started to work with this small builder to get some money to travel.

"Six weeks later, on November 12, we were building an al fresco, which is like a conservatory without a roof.

"We had to lift this large wooden beam - three-and-a-half metres long - 10 feet off the ground.

"I now know the legislation says that four men should have been lifting this beam, but there were only the two of us up ladders trying to get it into position.

"He (the other man) was trying to nail one end of it in while I held the other on my shoulder.

"At one point he let go of it and it slipped down and went out of my hands into the air.

"I just managed to move my head in time for it not to hit me on top of my head, but it hit me on the side.

"I fell off the ladder on to the kerb below, which broke my back in three places. I also suffered a bad head injury resulting in some brain damage.

"I couldn't walk - I could barely move when I was in Australia.

"But as soon as I got home I began to start to walk again.

"I was lucky in that, even though the builder had no insurance, I had paid money into Work Safe (a statutory agency) and will be able to take a claim."

But Johnathan warned other young men to take extra care about their construction employers in Australia.

"I would advise that you ensure that your potential employers have insurance," he said.

"Get your correct certificates, for example, a white card, wear the correct clothing, and ask for it to be provided.

"Also, sourcing jobs through an agency or union jobs website could potentially help you avoid employment by someone who is not legitimate."

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