Anger from Devastating Workplace Accident Fuels Safety Message

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Randy Royall detests complacency.

Twenty-five years after a work accident left him temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, Royall blames it for the tragic event that permanently altered the course of his life.

"I had become complacent," Royall told a nearly full house during a Day 2 session of the 2013 National VPPPA Conference in Nashville.

"And what I hate about complacency is that it's in this room right now. You can't see it, you can't smell it, you can't touch it, you can't feel it, you can't hear it, and it's all around you all the time," Royall said.

"And before you know it, it sneaks up on you and bites you square in the ass."

Royall, who swore like a sailor throughout his talk - no F-bombs were dropped, though - recalled how his complacency bit him on Oct. 7, 1987.

At the time of his accident, Royall was working for a "major petroleum company" ("I'm still not allowed to say their name," he said, adding that "they're not around anymore").

"I was hired in as a sandlaster/painter/welder at a rail-car repair shop, and that meant you were automatically on the hazardous-materials response team," explained Royall, who now is an EHS specialist for Chevron Phillips Chemical.

Royall headed up the team, which "handled all the hazardous-materials responses from the tip of Texas to the tip of Florida."

"We were damn good at it," he said.

On the day of the accident, Royal and his crew were eating in the lunchroom of the company's headquarters when they received a phone call asking them to respond to a leaking tank car on the rack.

Contrary to the standard procedure, Royall decided to investigate the situation by himself.

"We had a rule that you never went on a response by yourself," Royall explained. "But you see, when complacency sinks in on you, the first thing you do is think your way out of things."

A relatively new crewmember offered to go with him, but Royall insisted that the worker continue eating his lunch.

"I had it all figured out," Royall said. "But he knew better than me."

As he left the lunchroom, Royall joked to his crew: "'I want yellow roses on my casket.'"

"I didn't realize how close I would come to having yellow roses that day," Royall said.

Royall drove to the railyard and climbed to the top of the tank car to inspect the safety relief valve. Unaware that Royall was up there, an operator restored pressure to the tank car, causing the relief valve to open.

Startled, Royall jumped back and fell about 18 feet onto the rocks below.

Royall sustained life-threatening injuries, including four broken vertebrae, spinal compression, internal damage and a concussion.

During an excruciating 40 minutes on the ground, Texas fire ants ravaged his broken body.

When his wife and two sons arrived at the hospital, Royall was in so much pain that he told her, "I'm ready to die."

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