COLUMBUS, Ohio—Kina Hart lost her left arm in an industrial accident when she was 20 years old, working in a factory to pay for college.
It happened just after she started on her first day on the job. She told the story to kick off the Environmental Health and Safety Summit, held July 17-18 in Columbus.
An upbeat speaker, Hart mixed in poignant details and humor into her first-person account of how and why the serious accident happened—and how it impacted her family, friends and coworkers.
"The reason I share that story with you is that I know that's how so many people are when it comes to their jobs. I know that every one of you here work really hard. Your employees work really hard. This isn't just a job. It's not just a paycheck," she said.
The Environmental Health and Safety Summit was sponsored by the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors, the American Mold Builders Association and the Association for Rubber Products Manufacturers.
Yes, the money is important, Hart said. A manufacturing job pays the bills and puts food on the table. In Hart's case, it was paying for college, where she dreamed of getting an education to become a dentist.
"But I'm here to tell anybody that'll listen to say there is no job, there's no paycheck, there's absolutely no amount of money that would ever be worth any part of you," she said.
She wasn't trained for her summer job at an Alaska salmon processing plant. It did not have lockout/tag-out procedures for the conveyor belt that ripped off her arm. But Hart accepts that she shares some of the blame by not trusting her gut instinct that the job was hazardous. She "gave away (her) safety"—with tragic, life-changing consequences.
And Hart said that could happen to anybody at any factory. She urged management to spell it out to new hires that no job is worth getting injured.
"This is the one time in our lives where we need to put ourselves first, when it comes to safety," she said.
Losing her arm at a young age was hard to overcome. She had to relearn how do everyday things—tie her shoes, make a sandwich, open a jar of peanut butter—with just one arm.
Employees need to think safety all day, every day.
"But do we always do it? and 'always' really being the key word here. Because safety can't be most of the time. We know that. Safety can't be 'almost always.' It really does require a 100 percent commitment," Hart said. "I think it boils down to us. We are the people who make those day-to-day decisions that really dictate our own personal safety. And I think safety means something personal."
Hart knows just how personal safety really is. Attendees at the conference already knew how the story ended. Hart doesn't wear a prosthetic arm. She gets phantom pains common to amputees.
"To me, this is very ugly. It's painful frequently. But the worst part of what happened to me was it was 100 percent preventable. It did not even have to happen," she said.
She graduated from high school in 1988, she said, showing the audience a slide of her '80s-style, big-hair days as a cheerleader. Her father was a logger in forests of the Northwest; her mom stayed home to raise the kids. They told their children that college was a good idea, but they couldn't help to pay for it.