Your life can change in a moment!

I had the privilege of hearing Kina Repp speak the other day. Kina was hosted by our organization to make a number of presentations on the importance of safety in our everyday lives. Specifically, she highlighted the importance of lock-out/tag-out (LOTO) and related it to her personal story. Twenty-five years ago, Kina went to Alaska with a friend to work the summer in the salmon canning industry to earn money for college. On her first day working, less than an hour into her shift, her arm was caught in a conveyor belt while cleaning it. She lost her arm up to her shoulder and nearly died. She related her story about that day, her recovery, the impact this accident had on her life and others, and the key learnings we can take away from her experience. Her full story can be found on her website at and I encourage you to read it for yourself.

Kina’s presentation was impactful. She made everyone laugh at times and she had many in tears at times. During her presentation, you could hear a pin drop. It makes such a difference to hear the real-life stories of those impacted or those that can provide an eye-witness account of an incident. Kina did a terrific job conveying how her life changed in a single moment and challenging all of us to avoid the challenges she has faced, as a result. Knowing that words cannot convey the message like Kina did in person, I tried to capture the 10 key learnings for us from her story:

  1. Don’t rely on anyone else to protect you! – On her first day working in the Alaskan factory, Kina received no detailed training on how to clean the conveyors properly and safely. She simply began by doing what she felt might be the best approach. In fact, she stated that at one point, though the job seemed a bit unsafe, she assumed that, if it wasn’t safe, they wouldn’t allow new employees to do the job. She relied upon someone else to ensure her safety. Though the plant made many mistakes in this event, Kina stated that she shares the blame by assuming that she would be safe and that others would protect her.
  2. When you sense that something is not right, it probably is not – Kina stated that during the time she was cleaning the conveyor belt, she sensed that something was not right. It just did not seem right that they should be on, around, and under the conveyor belts while they were still running. However, she pushed that feeling aside because she wanted her boss to know that she was a good and hard worker. She did not want to complain on her first hour on the job. So, she kept working.
  3. Your life can change in a second – We all know it, but we think it cannot happen to us. In just a second, Kina’s glove, hand, shirt sleeve, and arm were pulled into the conveyor. She came to work that day complete, happy, and anxious to work, but she left semi-conscious, bloody, on a stretcher, in a helicopter, without her arm. Are we aware of the environment around us every day, every minute with the thought that our life could change in just a second?
  4. Consider the impact of your decisions on others you love – Not only did her life change that day, but the lives of many others did, as well. Kina almost died that day. She was air-lifted to a hospital where she incurred multiple surgeries. She said her father never left her side and has never forgiven himself for her accident. Many others were impacted, including her coworkers that witnessed her accident and the supervisor that assigned her to that job. When we think of safety, we typically only think of protecting ourselves and our coworkers. However, there are many other individuals that depend upon us, that love us, that count on us to come home each night. When we consider the risks that are around us and how much risk we are willing to incur, we need to also consider the potential impact to those others that care for us. Even if we feel the risk is worth it for ourselves, it is worth taking when you consider the possible impact on those individuals?
  5. You might not get a second chance – Kina was very fortunate! If not for her ability to brace herself in the conveyor with her other hand, her entire body would have been pulled into it. She knows she could have – perhaps, should have given her injuries – died that day. She was given a second chance. But, we might not have that same good fortune. Again, is it worth the risk?
  6. You never know what you are capable of until you are in that situation – Since the presentation, I have heard some say, “I could never have gone through what Kina did and survive the way she has done.” Kina is strong, travels extensively, water skis, is married with four children, and lives a full life. But, she went through many years of recovery. Before her accident, Kina would probably also had doubted her ability to go through all that. However, when faced with the alternative, she pushed forward.
  7. Teach others what you’ve learned – Kina told that her father has never forgiven himself for not teaching her about machines and how to be safe around them. Kina said that she has become very diligent about ensuring that others learn from her. She calls this her life’s mission. Despite the heavy travel schedule she incurs and time away from her family, she feels it is important to pass along what she has learned to others. So, the question for us is whether we are doing the same for those we love at home. Are you teaching others to wear safety goggles when using the weed eater? Are you consistently wearing your seat belt? Do you put away your phone when driving and teach others to do the same?
  8. Your attitude determines your satisfaction in life – Kina told a story about being frustrated one day trying to make a peanut butter sandwich. She told her grandmother that she just could not do it. Her wise grandmother told her, “Kina, you never have to make another sandwich in your life. You can let someone else do it for you. Or, you can learn to make the best peanut butter sandwich any one-armed girl ever made. The choice is up to you.” Kina made the choice to thrive. We all have it within us when challenged, but it depends on the choice we make. It depends upon our attitude.
  9. Seeing others with the eyes of a child – Kina eventually got her college degree in education and taught for many years. She spoke of how quickly children accept the fact that she simply has only one arm. They are able to accept others much more quickly than adults. Is this something that we can learn?
  10. Make the most of today – As Kina said, “We never know what today might bring. So, we need to make the most of every day.” Why let those pesky distractions we face today ruin it? Are our primary worries for today really worth it? Something to think about…

I hope Kina’s message is as meaningful to you as it was for me.  If you get the chance, visit her website.

Have a great and safe day!

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