British Columbia

No job is worth your life, says young drummer who lost arm in workplace accident

It was a day like any other, but a serious workplace incident changed Jack Thomas' life forever. Now he's telling young workers to stand up for themselves on the job.

'There’s always another job you can get, but you can’t get another life'

Jack Thomas with friends, who started an online fundraiser for him after he lost his arm in a work-related accident. (Cameron Fletcher)

Within minutes of having his right arm torn off at the elbow, Jack Thomas was already imagining his life as a one-armed drummer.

"I started thinking about songs and air-drummed right there while I was lying on the ground," Thomas told Gloria Mackarenko, guest host of CBC's On the Coast.

Thomas lost his arm two years ago when his sleeve was caught in a conveyor belt at a recycling plant where he had a summer sorting job. He was 17 at the time.

Thomas, from Port Coquitlam, had been trying to earn money before his final year of high school. He said he never imagined his job could lead to the loss of a limb.

"I think everybody thinks that they're invincible," he said. "When we did this task we didn't think anything bad would happen."

Didn't skip a beat

After the incident, Thomas, who was right-handed, spent about a month at Vancouver's G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre relearning skills with his left arm, including drumming.

He tapped into his love for heavy metal, specifically for Def Leppard's famous one-armed drummer Rick Allen, as motivation.

Within a week of losing his arm, he'd purchased an electronic drum kit to train with and can now play the bass and guitar once again, despite his disability.

Starting out with easy beats, Thomas quickly worked his way up to more complex percussive and bass arrangements.

Just say no

Now, he's on a mission: to prevent workplace-related incidents from happening to other young workers

He said the difficult job market means workers, especially those who are inexperienced, are more likely to do something they know is dangerous in order to keep their job.

"You want to be the guy that says yes to everything so they start to like you, and of course you're afraid to say no because you don't want to disappoint your boss," he said.

He emphasized that there's no job or pay cheque worth risking serious injury or death. His advice to anyone who feels they've been given an unsafe task at work is to stand up for their right to a safe workplace and say no to putting themselves in danger.

"There's always another job you can get but you can't get another life and you can't regain limbs," he said. 

Two years after his injury, Thomas has graduated high school, tours with his band, spends hours in the recording studio and is working on a new album. 

He said he's lost too much to be an optimist about the situation he's in. He said he wouldn't wish his circumstances on anyone.

"I've been given a lot of great opportunities since it happened but that being said, my life has changed forever and it's changed almost entirely in the negative."

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Coast