James Wood had no plans to talk publicly after his accident, and initially refused an offer to speak about workplace safety.
“I was asked to share my story. Someone rang me and said, ‘we are having a safety day, would you be willing to tell people what happened to you?’”
Initially I said ‘no way I am sitting in front of a group and talk about my accident,’ James Wood recalled in his outer Melbourne home.
Then they asked me: ‘If someone had turned up at your workplace before you got hurt and shared their story, is this the sort of thing you’d have listened to?’ and it clicked,” he said.
James Wood is now a full-time safety speaker and runs CNB Safe. His team of seven talks to more then 300 businesses across Australia each year.
“We like to think that we give people the real reason to stay safe at work,” he said.
“One of the most rewarding parts of what we do … is that people tell us after hearing our stories it made them think about safety in a different way.”
James Wood lost the use of his legs in a vehicle accident. The trained diesel mechanic was moving a truck on a mine site at Singleton, in the NSW Hunter Valley when he lost control of the vehicle.
“I took off in a hurry and was going too quickly, and it rolled down the side of a hill,” he told SBS Small Business Secrets.
“I was thrown out of the cabin and snapped my back and damaged my spinal cord.”
After being airlifted to safety, the 21 year old spent three months in hospital and a further six months in rehabilitation.
“The first thing I thought after being told I would never walk again is: ‘this doesn’t happen to me."
“When the doctor told me I would never walk again I didn’t believe it. But I’ve been sitting in a wheelchair for 30 years now,” he said.
“And part the reason I like doing what I do is because it gives people a chance to ask me a question. A lot of people have never met someone with an injury or disability or in a wheelchair.
James Wood also presents online safety videos called ‘Woody’s Words’. He was named one of LinkedIn’s top influencers for 2019.
The 54 year old admits his life changed because of choices he made at work.
“The reason I got thrown out of the truck that day was [because] I wasn’t held in,” James said.
“I didn’t have a seat belt on.”
Although he retains the full-use of his arms and upper body, he was unable to return to the career he had trained for.
“As a result of my accident, many opportunities were wiped out.
“Since my accident I have had to put up with some jobs that I would not have done if I had more opportunities.
CNB Safe is based in Yarra Glen and James Wood credits Business Victoria for taking it to the next level.
A mentor advised the couple two years ago on workflow and staffing.
“After the first meeting it started to open my mind to some of the ways we could make the business better,” James Wood explained.
“We were two-person show, myself and Vanessa doing everything from marketing and promotion to client consultation. The mentor said to us: ‘you are trying to do too much and spreading yourself too thin.’ And he advised us to outsource work and hire someone.
“We implemented that quickly after the mentoring sessions, and it made a huge difference.
“Our business has grown, and our revenue has increased and we have to put a lot of it down to work we did with the mentor.
The Business Victoria not-for-profit service uses the skills of retired business owners who travel around Victoria in a purpose-built bus, providing expert advice.
“A lot of them come from small business or corporate sectors,” Business Victoria mentor Katya Ellis explained.
“The bus is essentially a business information hub on wheels.
“I’ve been mentoring for four years and in that time I’ve mentored around 400 sessions” Katya Ellis said.
“We advise on marketing, finance, creative business skills and everything essentially relevant for small business growth.”
“The mentoring service can also assist businesses experiencing hardship in drought areas, or those affected by bush fires and floods,” Ms Ellis explained.
“Our mentors enjoy seeing businesses thrive and grow. It has such an impact on people’s lives when they realise their dreams.”
James and Vanessa Wood agree: “We are three years down the track from the program and we have two support staff that work with us now.”
However, for James the real reward lies in keeping people safe at work.
"It’s all about being able to go out that gate or door at the end of each day,” he said with a smile.
For more information about the Business Victoria bus and its schedule go to https://www.business.vic.gov.au/