By MALLORY GRUBEN
A City of Portland maintenance worker was impaled by a metal bar at work, and Laborers Local 483 has launched a fundraiser to support him and his family as he recovers.
Rob Spears works in the city’s fleet services maintenance shop. In the Aug. 11 accident, a 6-foot-long, 20-pound wrecking bar, kind of like a crowbar, went completely through his stomach while he was working on a flatbed truck with a spring-loaded mechanism. As he was removing the springs, one launched the bar through his body, said Local 483 Recording Secretary James O’Laughlen. When he visited the site after the accident, O’Laughlen said the safety signs on the truck were deteriorated and unreadable. The safety warning about the compressed energy in the springs was concealed by dirt.
“The actual equipment is very old, so there are lots of questions the OSHA investigation will hopefully figure out,” O’Laughlen said.
According to a press release from Portland Fire and Rescue, emergency responders could not place the gurney in the back of an ambulance because the bar was so long. Instead, they walked the gurney to a nearby hospital. Spears’ sister, Amber Buxton, said the bar also made it difficult to get Spears through the hospital doors and into the operating room. The firefighters helped support Spears and the weight of the bar, so doctors could perform the initial surgery, she said. He’s had at least six operations since then, she added.
Spears remained in the Intensive Care Unit at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center on Sept. 12. However, he was awake, alert, and no longer needed a breathing tube and most of the other hospital apparatus he’d been using. On Sept. 11, he took his first steps since the accident, Buxton said.
“He’s super lucky. It’s not really real to me yet,” she said. “I will never forget the look on his face when he woke up for the first time and he realized I was there, and he was (alive) in real time.”
Buxton said doctors haven’t shared a release date yet, but the family anticipates it will take at least a year for Spears to fully heal. After the ICU, Spears will likely transfer to a rehabilitation center for additional care and recovery, Buxton said.
“It’s such an unusual accident, so it’s not like there’s a, ‘If this and this happens, this is what your road to recovery looks like,’” Buxton said. “Every morning there’s a team of trauma people who say, ‘This happened overnight, and now we see this, so how are we going to respond?’”
Local 483 started a GoFundMe page for Spears after several of his coworkers asked how they could help. The money will go to Spears’ family to cover expenses. If there is money left over, the family will donate it to a charity.
Spears qualifies for workers compensation, which will replace two-thirds of his wages while he recovers. O’Laughlen said the union-negotiated benefits also provide industrial accident leave with continued health insurance for at least 12 months while someone is out of work. Local 483 can negotiate to extend that benefit, if needed.
“The challenge with these kinds of injuries is always the long term. The city has a tendency to be focused and engaged when an injury happens, but when people are dealing with lifelong ramifications of an injury, it takes more to make sure they do the right thing,” O’Laughlen said. Spears is a third-generation metal fabrication worker. He has worked for the city for 16 years and been a union member just as long. The maintenance shop is a close-knit team that interacts with almost every other department in the city, and Spears is well known for his dependability, O’Laughlen said.
“Rob is somebody who has clocked in, done his work, been a solid member for years and years and years. He’s the kind of the person you take for granted in an institution as part of the fabric,” O’Laughlen said. “If an incident like this can happen to him, it can happen to any of us. And that just speaks to the importance of organizing around safety.”
HOW TO CONTRIBUTE: Visit gofund.me/4473d861