A truck crash on the job five years ago turned his life upside down, but Warrnambool resident Darren Smith didn't let that stop him from doing what he loved. Now, he's being recognised at a state level for inspiring others.
'Don't be afraid to reach out' has become a motto for the self-employed plumber who is a finalist for WorkSafe's 'Worker Return to Work Achievement'.
"Utilise all the services available," he said.
"It could take three to five years to learn how to re-adjust your life after a major trauma. So have a plan. Whether it's mental health services and a psychologist, reach out. I have a physiotherapist, a masseur and people assisting me in the gym. I even went back to university and did some courses to re-educate myself."
In 2016, Mr Smith was involved in a life-changing accident when the truck he was driving collided with a B-double milk tanker.
He survived, but was forced to find a new way of living and working after undergoing a below-the-knee amputation. Darren has since used his story to help others, giving speeches and even re-training to teach students the importance of workplace safety.
"I'm a sessional teacher at TAFE delivering occupational health and safety courses and trying to bring lived experience to those courses," he said.
"TAFE have been brilliant in embracing me with a disability but also they've tried to capture my work experience as an employer as well as my lived experience of trauma."
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Mr Smith joins Warrnambool Bus & Roadways' Michelle Duynhoven in being a top contender for an award.
Ms Duynhoven - nominated for the 'Leading Return to Work Practice' category - has been recognised for her work in reaching out to injured workers early and with genuine empathy.
Cobden's Aurora Dairies was also recognised for their efforts in improving worker safety, using low-cost technology including geo-fencing and GPS tracking to improve conditions for workers using quadbikes.
WorkSafe chief executive officer Colin Radford commended all the finalists for their commitment to improving health and safety and to returning to work after injury.
"This year's finalists have developed innovative approaches to new issues - such as the challenges of safely treating COVID-19 patients - as well as fresh solutions to ongoing challenges," he said.
"We've received many outstanding entries, including innovative use of technology, prevention-led approaches to mental health, and finalists going above and beyond in their commitment to workplace safety."
Winners of the WorkSafe awards will be announced at a ceremony on February 24.
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