Man loses arm, uses workplace accident to help others

Matt Pomerinke lost his arm in an accident at his first job working at a paper mill. He now volunteers with a program that teaches teens and adults the basics of workplace safety, with a goal to make sure what happened to him won't happen to others. (KOMO photo)

SEATTLE -- Students at Franklin High School are learning the basics of staying safe on the job from a man who knows the cost all too well.

Matt Pomerinke lost his arm in an accident at his first job working at a paper mill. He was 21-years old, and believes lack of workplace safety training led to his accident.

Teenagers get hurt at work about twice as often as adults, sometimes leading to death or lifelong disabilities. Statistics show the food service, and retail industries have the highest rates for teen injuries in the workplace.

Pomerinke is a speaker with the Injured Young Workers Program, aiming to help make sure teenagers are equipped with proper knowledge of workplace safety.

Since his accident at the mill, Pomerinke visits high schools throughout the state, leading conversations with students who will likely be seeking summer jobs.

"My goal is to make sure no kid has the same accident I had," Pomerinke said. "If I can keep even one kid from facing injury, it's worth it."

The program started seven years ago, and is modeled off a program that started in B.C., Canada.

"A lot of kids are fearless, they don't think an injury is ever going to happen to them," Pomerinke said. "I know I thought the same thing when I was younger, and it does happen, and I'm proof of that."

On Wednesday, Pomerinke visited Franklin High School to explain ways you can stay safe, while also serving as a reminder that accidents do happen.

The reaction from students is incredible, Pomerinke says. After speaking to adults, for example, questions are rarely asked, but with students, he's spent more than 15 minutes answering their questions after sessions.

With a push for vocational jobs, workplace safety is important to learn at an early age.

"The main thing that I always ask kids to do is take training seriously, and ask questions, just put yourself out there," Pomerinke says. "I didn't, I just rolled with it, and I ended up getting hurt out of it. The more questions you ask, the better you are at your job, the better likelihood you have to make it through without injury."

Pomerinke still works full time at a paper mill, has a family, and volunteers with the program during his free time.

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