“After my accident, I had to learn to live again” | Our Chat With James ‘Woody’ Wood - Alchemy Construct
5 Oct 2022

News & Press — “After my accident, I had to learn to live again” | Our Chat With James ‘Woody’ Wood

“After my accident, I had to learn to live again.”

We connect with human stories before we do with procedures and processes. So for Safety Month this year, we invited James Wood, founder CNB Safe, to Alchemy HQ to share his story with our team. James had an accident on site that changed his life in ways he could never have imagined. With his company CNB Safe, he hopes sharing the stories of people affected by workplace accidents will prevent other people from going through what he experienced after his accident; physical upheaval, dwindling career prospects and, above all, the mental health challenges that came as a result of his injuries.

Can you tell us the story of your accident – what happened?

“I was a diesel mechanic by trade – I’d always had a fascination with fixing things, so I loved my job. I was out on-site and my boss had asked me to go and fix a fan belt, something I had done lots of times before. I didn’t make any job plan. I didn’t do a risk assessment. I finished the job and I could actually see where I needed to go to drop off the truck. I remember the exact time before my accident, it was 8:55AM – I wanted to make it back to the lunchroom so I could catch up with my mates for smoko at 9AM. I hopped in my truck in a hurry and didn’t put on my seatbelt. I’d done the trip lots of times and I was going just a bit too quick for the conditions, the road was wet and I lost control of the truck and rolled down the side of a hill. It flipped three times. I got thrown out and broke my back among a lot of other serious injuries, including irreversible spinal injuries that caused me to lose the use of my legs. The choices I made that day changed my life forever.”

What was the first thing that went through your mind after you had your accident? 

“‘Oh fuck, the boss is going to kill me.’”

“I was lying there and I remember being more worried about the truck than my own personal safety, that I was going to get in trouble. I think that most of us never think that we will be injured, so when it happens the initial thought is ‘everything will be okay.’ It’s not until later that we start to realise how it is going to change things for us.”

What was your recovery like?

“I spent three months in hospital and then another six months in a full-time live in rehab facility – I had to learn to live again. I’d never even sat in a wheelchair, now I had to learn how to do everything in different ways; to get dressed lying down, to shower, learn to drive using hand controls. The most surprising recovery was with my mental health though. At the time, there wasn’t even a term in the public consciousness for mental health. I just had to get on with life but it was the little frustrations and loss of independence that I struggled with the most. I still go to the supermarket and there are things I need on the top shelf – there have been times when I just don’t want to ask for help that I just leave the shop.”

“It’s not about being safe for your boss, it’s about going home to your family and friends at the end of each day.”

Was there anything else that surprised you about getting hurt?

“The other thing that hit me in recovery was that it wasn’t just me that the accident had affected, it was everyone I knew. My girlfriend at the time was honest with me and told me she couldn’t handle life with me in a wheelchair. We had dreams together that she wouldn’t be able to realise now that I was in my position. My friends would come to the hospital and cry; I couldn’t understand how something that happened to me was so upsetting to other people. I just had never imagined this would happen to me.”

How did your accident change your working life? 

“I think it’s improved since then but my career options were wiped out at the time of my injury. There was a lot more bias towards people with disabilities back then. I remember doing an experiment when it came to job-hunting. I circled eight jobs in the paper. I applied for four mentioning that I had a disability and four not mentioning it. It could have been a coincidence but I got callbacks from the four where I hadn’t mentioned it and rejection letters from the other four. It’s tough to experience that; I could have done anything before my accident and now I had little choice. So, I had to take the work that was available to me. I cleaned engine parts and I worked in the security control rooms just staring at screens all day. I’ve never been unemployed but they weren’t career-building roles.”

Why did you decide to share your story?

“I actually never planned to share my story. One of my old workmates made it to a leadership role at a big firm and part of his new role was safety. He called me up one day and said, ‘Woody, we’re having this bullshit safety day, I reckon you should come and tell your story.’ Initially, I thought, ‘There is no way I’m going to sit in front of a group of people and talk about my accident’. But he kept nagging at me and one day we were having a couple of beers, he said ‘If someone had turned up at our workplace and told a story like yours, would you have listened?’, and something just clicked with me. I would have liked to have heard a story like mine but not from a boss, a manager or the safety person – but from a peer, someone I could relate to. So I agreed to do it. That was in 1998 and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

What is it that you like about running your company and sharing your story?

“I have sat outside conference rooms and overheard people saying that they don’t want to be there. So I love going into a room with people and trying to change their minds. I don’t use stats or charts, I tell people my story and it can change people’s views. That’s really rewarding. If I can help just one person prevent themselves from getting injured, it’s worth it.”

What are some of the most preventable accidents you see on a daily basis? 

“Injuries that are caused by people being distracted or complacent. Now I see it most with mobile phones, they’re a huge distraction. And with complacency, it doesn’t matter how many times you do a task, you have to treat each time with the same caution as the last.”

Do you have 3 key pieces of advice that people can remember easily out on site? 

“Sure, that’s easy: the three things that caused my accident.”


  1. Take a bit of time to think about what you are doing before you do it, even if this is just a few seconds.
  2. Don’t take a shortcut or risk something just to save time.
  3. Protect yourself by wearing PPE and your seatbelt, even for short journeys.

What advice would you give a younger you about safety? 

“It’s not about being safe for your boss, it’s about going home to your family and friends at the end of each day.”