Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Double family tragedy sparks Kiwi Dallas Adams bid to make underground workers safer

Dallas Adams spent 24 years in the underground construction and mining industry, but left to spread the message about safety after losing his dad and brother in workplace accidents. Photo / Supplied
Dallas Adams spent 24 years in the underground construction and mining industry, but left to spread the message about safety after losing his dad and brother in workplace accidents. Photo / Supplied

Dallas Adams stands before rooms full of the kind of people he used to work with in 24 years of mining and underground construction and, always, the tears come.

It's an industry that has both given much to, and taken much from, the Brisbane-based Kiwi and his family.

In May last year Adams' father, Jim Adams, was killed when he was struck by part of a pressurised pipe that detached during tunnel work on one of Sydney's biggest motorway projects.

Jim Adams, pictured with his wife Diane Adams and granddaughter Teghan Adams. Jim Adams died in a workplace accident last year. Photo / Supplied
Jim Adams, pictured with his wife Diane Adams and granddaughter Teghan Adams. Jim Adams died in a workplace accident last year. Photo / Supplied

The 65-year-old grandfather, who grew up in several central North Island towns as part of a family of underground workers and had worked as a tunneller and gold and coal miner on both sides of the Tasman — including in the ill-fated Pike River Mine — since he was 18, died days before the 13th anniversary of his eldest son's mining death.

James Adams was killed in a rock fall as he worked with his father in a New South Wales coal mine in 2004. He was 32.

For Dallas Adams, his grief at his only sibling's death was something he kept "bottled up" and hidden.

After his dad died, the father-of-three decided sharing his story of double tragedy with others working in the same high-risk industry would help him deal with his grief and, potentially, save others from suffering the same loss his family had endured.

Jim Adams, centre, with his sons James Adams, left, and Dallas Adams. Both Jim and James died in workplace accidents. Photo / Supplied
Jim Adams, centre, with his sons James Adams, left, and Dallas Adams. Both Jim and James died in workplace accidents. Photo / Supplied

The 43-year-old "went back to school" to study health and safety and then, after starting his own company, developed a 45-minute presentation he called Why Safety Matters, which he first presented to his dad's former colleagues and had since repeated 200 to 300 times, including to City Rail Link workers in Auckland.

Adams will again speak to those working on New Zealand's largest infrastructure project when he returns to Auckland next month.

He wanted to remind those in the industry of the importance of safe work practices, and, even though it wasn't easy, to do so in a way that made an impression.

"I don't hold back ... I tell them I had two family members who went to work, and didn't come home. It's very raw — I've done over 200, 300 now and there's not one that I wouldn't shed a tear."

Adams also speaks about growing up in a "tunnelling" family and his more than two decades "working in a tough industry of underground construction and mining with 12-hour shift work, mud, heat, dust and heavy machinery where it seems normal to get stuck in and get the job done".

Jim Adams pictured while working on the Clyde Dam project in the 1980s. Photo / Supplied
Jim Adams pictured while working on the Clyde Dam project in the 1980s. Photo / Supplied

It helped that he knew the industry so well, Adams said.

"I use my experience to express how dangerous this line of work is and how important it is to make safe decisions ... to not push or compromise safe work practices to get the job done, which can create a ripple effect on so many."

Many were stunned that he was able to talk about such huge loss, but doing so had helped, Adams said.

Dallas Adams, who speaks publicly about the loss of his father and brother in workplace accidents. Photo / Supplied
Dallas Adams, who speaks publicly about the loss of his father and brother in workplace accidents. Photo / Supplied

And although he didn't consider himself a spiritual person, he felt his dad and brother supported what he was doing.

"A lot of the comments [I get] are people saying your father would be very proud, [and] your brother. To be honest, I'm s***ing myself before I get up on the stage. I actually feel sick ... but I also just feel powerful.

"I feel the strength I suppose of dad or my brother going, 'Come on mate, get out
there. Say what you have to say'."

- Herald on Sunday

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