Mark Johnson speaks about workplace safety to high school students and workers across B.C. following an accident that altered his life. (Trevor Beggs)

Speaker shares survival story at Surrey high school

Mark Johnson travels the province talking about workplace safety following traumatic injury

Mark Johnson said he enjoys sharing his gruesome survival story with high school students.

After all, it could save a life.

Johnson, 32, suffered a life-altering injury when he was 21 while working at a Maple Ridge sawmill.

Seven months into the job, Johnson got his arm stuck in a moving roller while he was cleaning a conveyor belt.

“My arm wasn’t going to stop the machine,” said Johnson.

He started to bleed out. With the machine roaring and no one around, Johnson said he felt helpless.

“I had this overwhelming feeling that I was going to die,” he said.

“I was close to passing out, and I’d lost a lot of blood. I couldn’t feel my arm anymore but my back was starting to hurt. I was pulled against the top belt, and after two minutes the machine pulled my vest off before it started to rip the skin off.”

“That was the most painful part.”

The gruesome accident left him in agony, and it took an unexplained turn of events to save him.

“I looked at the sky and said, ‘please God make it stop.’ Right after that, the machine shut off.”

That was about 30 to 45 minutes after Johnson initially got his arm caught in the moving roller.

To this day, Johnson says he doesn’t know who shut the machine off, even after asking all of his co-workers afterwards. Worksafe B.C.’s investigation didn’t give him any answers either.

Even after the machine simmered down, it still took him about ten minutes before anybody heard his cries for help.

“I kept yelling for help. When you’ve already lost a lot of blood, the hardest thing I had to do in my life was stay awake from passing out.”

Eventually help arrived. Johnson said his coworkers had to use a chainsaw to saw off the belt, and they also had to unbolt the roller. Looking back on the events brings Johnson vivid memories of preparing for death.

“When I was in the machine, I tried to convince myself that it was okay to die. After I woke up in hospital, I had to say goodbye to about 25 to 30 people on a Monday night at midnight before I went into surgery.”

Compassion from friends and family showed Johnson that convincing himself he was ready to die was premature. “One of the messages I tell people is that if you think nobody cares about you, you’re wrong. Kids need to know that they have everything to live for.”

That attitude has inspired Johnson to go around to high schools and workplaces telling his story.

The lack of preparation for the real world when Johnson was in high school is part of the reason why he decided to spend his time talking to students.

“When I was in high school, we had one drinking and driving speaker,” he said. “To me and my friends, we already knew about the dangers of drinking and drinking.”

“We never had anyone talk to us about safety in high school. I never took safety seriously. I thought back then that bad things don’t happen to people like me.”

Aside from talking to people about the importance of safety,

To this day, Johnson doesn’t have much use in his left arm.

Johnson also brings up other relatable issues that were never taught to him in high school.

“What we needed was someone to tell us about the real world. We didn’t have anyone teaching us how to make a resume,” he said.

“We didn’t have anyone telling us we needed to dress up for an interview. These things are common sense but there’s a lot of high school students who don’t know about these values yet.”

On Wednesday, after lunchtime at Guildford Park Secondary, Johnson stepped into the Grade 10 planning class to give his spiel.

Instead of getting right to the injury that changed his life, he engaged with the students about their plans for the future.

It is something that comes naturally to him now. He’s been speaking to students since 2011, a job he does from September to June.

“I’ve probably spoken to 150,000 to 200,000 students,” he said.

“Me and my co-workers do it because we care about the program. It’s mentally tough to bring this stuff up, but we hope it leaves a lasting impression.”



trevor.beggs@surreynowleader.com

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