30 January 2020

Siemens Well Being Champions: “Get Your Vehicle Ready for Winter” – Safer Winter Driving Campaign

The Necessary Daily Commute, Driving to and from Work During the Long Winter Months & A Personal Account of my RTA

Some would argue that the ‘Future of Work’ is Work From Home (wfh), and although this is definitely becoming a more common trend for ways of working these days, invariably most of us still have to do the daily commute, driving into work, or travel around, driving whilst working. And now that the winter weather season is upon us again, greater care and attention to detail, must be taken to stay safe, whilst driving on the roads, in winter driving conditions, to ensure we all arrive at work safely, now and in the future.

With this in mind, I’ve been encouraged by colleagues, to write down a personal account of what happened to me whilst travelling into work one winter’s morning, a few years ago now  … I’ve called it “My RTA in Hades!”

I’ve also included a variety of extracts from communications that Siemens has issued in previous years to encourage safer winter driving. This advice, regarding winter driving, is still relevant for today, and offers good common sense tips and advice that will reduce the risks for Siemens colleagues whilst driving during the winter period.

My RTA in Hades, Subsequent Rescue & Evacuation by Air Ambulance to the Major Trauma Unit at the QMC Nottingham

It was a cold, dark frosty morning, with low-lying fog as I recall; a typical miserable UK winter’s morning really, as I started my car journey into work, on that day, a few days before Christmas in 2014.

I travel into work, in Nottingham, from the south-east, about a 25-mile journey, cutting across country, using some of the more obscure and isolated country lanes, with one such location called ‘Hades’, which turned out to be quite a significant name, on that day, as it turned out..

I recall little of the actual circumstances of the accident and crash impact, but no doubt still being dark, poor visibility, winter weather, as well as driving on untreated back roads in the frosty and icy conditions, were all significant and contributing factors towards events that led up to my road traffic accident (RTA), on that fateful winter’s day.

Though only semi-conscious, I remember being in a lot of pain and also really struggling to breathe, in fact desperately gasping for breath, with chest and lung damage, having been crushed by the initial force of the crash impact. I was also bleeding quite badly, though then, quite unaware of the full extent of my injuries, and the fact that I was half in and half outside of the car, broken and crushed, buried in soil from the crash impact, with the full weight of the car bearing down on the top half of me! The weight of the car was continually crushing me and restricting my breathing, causing me uncontrolled terror, at the realisation that I was slowly suffocating …alone, in the dark, and completely helpless, and not sure how much longer I could last!

Mercifully I must have kept going in and out of consciousness, so things took on a dream like quality, with waves of excruciating pain, smoke inhalation and the ever present smell of fuel raising the terrifying prospect of potential fire risk, adding to my panic and terror of being trapped, and causing me greater urgency to try to escape and get free of this claustrophobic nightmare!

Even being badly concussed I do recall the feeling of utter despair in the knowledge that I was ‘off the beaten track’, seemingly in the middle of no-where (Hades of all places?), unlikely to be rescued any time soon. I had also lost the feeling in my arm and legs, with my trapped left side and left arm feeling like it was ripped open, twisted and broken in many places, with the arm feeling like it was kind of hanging off!!  Which was also contributing to my overall feeling of utter panic and despair, of my hopeless situation!

I have no real perception of time passing, but I think I must have been trapped in the wreck, undiscovered, for about a couple of hours – a long time to be trapped, alone, in pain, in freezing conditions, in Hades of all places! In time, I did eventually sense activity outside my tomb like enclosure, which turned out to be helicopter noise in the proximity of the crash scene.

Rescue & Subsequent Evacuation by Air Ambulance to QMC Nottingham:

I’ve since learned that initially, the Loughborough Fire & Rescue Service were alerted to my RTA, by a member of the public, but because of the isolated location, poor weather conditions and visibility that morning, they couldn’t actually find where the accident location was!

Fortunately for me, the Nottingham Air Ambulance Service had also been alerted, and proactively joined in the search from the air, with this search proving successful, eventually finding my car and the crash site, via helicopter, with their thermal imaging cameras. Once located, the Air Ambulance team sprang into action, landing yards from the crash site (I do recall the intense roar of the rotor blade noise) and it was the pilot and crew who made first contact and who I was first vaguely aware of, with their noisy rescue activities, at the crash scene.

I have no clear memory of the sequence of events from this point on really, though the emergency services must have then proceeded to dig and cut me out, releasing me from the vehicle, followed by the eventual and essential speedy evacuation via the attending air ambulance to the Major Trauma Unit at the QMC in Nottingham to receive urgent medical attention.

QMC Nottingham  –  Major Trauma Unit

Again, I recall little of the actual Fire Service & Air Ambulance rescue, being unconscious and drugged up with morphine, given by the first responder team, so I totally missed out on the once in a lifetime “Ride of the Valkyrie” helicopter ride in to the QMC Hospital in Notts! Also, because I happened to be carrying only Siemens work ID, the Emergency Services duly contacted the switchboard (Airline 0800 0921361), here at Siemens, to let them know of the situation, and to informed them of my really good excuse for not coming into work that morning..

The next few days in the QMC seemed to blur into a single period of time, where day became indistinguishable from night, and where the effects of drugs made everything hazy, taking away the pain, but also all concepts of where I was, events, or of time passing really. During this time, I must have been stabilised, assessed, x-rayed, measured up (for metalwork), and prepared for surgery. I was operated on by a Colonel of the British Army, on his first day back, returning from Afghanistan. An approx. 10-hour operation followed, involving incisions, stitching, fixing all the fractures with metal plates, screws and titanium rods etc. The Barry Sheene (1980s) Silverstone accident x-ray photos springs to mind here..

Post-op, and weeks and the weeks went by, and the staff at QMC were absolutely marvelous, treating me very well, nothing was too much trouble! Siemens were fantastic too, with staff visits, calls, well-wishes and texts, which really gave me a boost and improved my hospital stay. I was eventually released, but just when I thought I was on the mend, I became ill, suffering a quite serious setback with wound infections, causing an emergency hospital readmission (for more weeks), to be re-operated on, opened up again, to flush out the infections, then a prolonged period on drug drips and more drugs to resolve the problem. Time dragged on, but eventually I was released back home, for the grand kids and the dog, to look after me!

Convalescing & Eventual Return to Work

The months went by at home, and it seemed to take forever to mend and begin to feel anything like myself again. I was still in considerable pain and needed to rest up during periods of the day to recuperate. Also, the drugs, particularly the morphine, that I ended up taking for > 10 months was also proving a problem, proving hard for me to actually get off the stuff!

After 6 months of sick leave, liaising with HR and HSE, I managed to instigate two or three attempts to try to get back to work. Because I’d been off for so long, and the nature of my injuries, this involved being formally assessed by Siemens delegated health team (in Mansfield), to assess if I was fit enough to safely return to work. Unfortunately, I failed each time, mainly because initially I really wasn’t fit enough to return to work, but they were also concerned about the levels of medication I still required. Eventually on my fourth attempt, I managed to go ‘cold turkey’ and ‘jump the hurdle’ to convince them I was fit enough, and ready to return to work. HSE and my manager then arranged a smooth phased return to work for me, where I started off doing a couple of days a week and steadily built up from there, over the coming months. Looking back this phased return to work was very beneficial in my case, helping to restore my confidence, and get me back up to speed again. Thankfully, I’m now back working up to full strength.

In all I was off work for a year, which was a big deal for me, as I’d never really been significantly ill, or been off on sick leave before. Lucky as I was on that day, and although I consider myself to be ‘recovered’, and feel that I am able to actively participate and contribute to my work, inevitably with such serious injuries, I know I’ll never quite be 100% right. As with any serious injury, you tend to carry the after-effects of the injury, both mentally and physically, on with you, into later life.

Of course, I’m very grateful to all the rescue services, Air Ambulance and the hospital staff at QMC who cared for me and put me back together, nurturing me back to health over many months. Also to my employer (Siemens) and work colleagues, for their fantastic response, understanding, encouragement, and assistance, in getting me back on my feet and back to work.

Impact of the RTA & Lessons Learnt:

Of course, ‘accidents happen’ as they say, but looking back on the events that unfolded, leading up to my RTA on that winter’s morning, I can’t help but wonder if I could have done things differently back then, which may have gone a long way towards avoiding the accident and its consequences in the first place. To that end, here is some advice Siemens HSE have issued regarding precautions to be taken whilst winter driving.

Road Safety Awareness – Get Your Vehicle Ready for Winter:

Before you travel, check your vehicle:

• Tyre’s (including the spare) must be inflated to the correct pressure. The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6 mm, but we recommend at least 3 mm for driving in winter conditions.

• Top up oil and water levels

• Ensure anti-freeze and screen wash are at the correct concentrations and correct levels for winter.

• Have your battery checked to ensure it is fully charged, the terminals are clean and it is topped up with distilled water if necessary.

• Check that your heater system is working efficiently and the demister is effective.

• Check your windscreen wipers and replace the blades if necessary.

• Check that all lights are clean and working properly.

• Ensure that windows and mirrors are clean and free from snow or ice and are fully demisted and clear before you set off.

• Ensure that you have enough fuel in the tank. When driving in bad weather conditions:

• Slow down

• Anticipate problems

• Use the highest gear as possible

• Avoid sudden braking and acceleration

• Avoid harsh steering

• Increase distance between you and the vehicle in front

• Take particular care at junctions when leaving or joining untreated roads

• Allow extra time for your journey and avoid rushing

• Take particular care in low light levels

• In snowy or icy conditions, try to use motorways and main roads where possible, or other routes that have been gritted Be sure to take with you…

• Deicer spray and plastic scraper.

• Sun glasses (in case of glare caused by low sun)

• Emergency kit – these are available to buy ready-made, or you could assemble your own.

• Mobile phone …but do not use it whilst you are driving

• Keep your phone switched off while you are driving

• OR place it on call divert or voicemail to receive any messages.

• Stop at a safe location to monitor and make any necessary calls In addition, if you have to travel in particularly adverse conditions, it would be wise to take:

• Warm clothing

• Wellington boots

• Sleeping bag or blanket

• Shovel

• Hot drink

• Chocolate or other high energy foods

• Check your local and/or national travel information and weather forecasts before setting off: Useful sources of information: 

• Local and national radio

• www.metoffice.gov.uk

• www.trafficradio.org.uk

• www.highways.gov.uk

• Highways Agency information line 08457 50 40 30

• In extreme conditions, or if they are forecast, review whether your journey is really necessary

• If you must travel, plan journey with care, using main roads or motorways where possible.

Tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to arrive

Teaser Photo by Adam Cai on Unsplash

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