In 20 years of working as a scaffolder, Darren never had an accident at work. And then he did. But despite severe injuries, he was able to get back on his feet – thanks to the insurance he’d taken out just three months before. Article by Nick Green.
Next time you pass a building cloaked in scaffolding, spare a thought for the experts working up there in the wind, on a temporary structure without so much as a safety harness. For 20 years this metal rigging has served as Darren’s office, the place where he supervises teams (‘gangs’) of scaffolders, manages the processes of building and dismantling the hundreds of tubes and couplers, and makes sure everything is done as safely as possible.
Starting in his 20s as a labourer, Darren worked his way up to become an advanced scaffolder, which is as high as you can go in the profession – often literally. ‘I’ve always enjoyed it immensely,’ he says. ‘Working in the open air, doing a job that keeps you fit. You don’t have to be massively strong, but it is a daily workout, with lots of climbing involved.’ Darren also kept himself very fit outside the job with yoga, swimming, golf and cricket (which his great-grandfather played for Trinidad).
In all that time, Darren had never had a work-related injury beyond the occasional bruise. ‘I’d never even seen a serious scaffolding accident. We’re a very risk-aware profession. We have to be, as there are dangers for the public down below as well as for us. There are strict safety procedures to follow, and you learn to trust the rest of the gang. Being so high up, you’re very aware of the danger, and that helps you to stay safe.’
But even the most experienced scaffolders can be vulnerable to a moment of bad luck. Darren was working on a building near Eastbourne, at the height of a typical chimney stack, when he trod on a piece of temporary roof and fell thirty feet to the ground.
‘Like an elephant was standing on my chest’
Darren doesn’t remember actually falling. His head must have hit at least one steel pole on the way down, causing him to lose consciousness – which he saw as a small consolation. ‘It meant that I couldn’t feel my injuries until I woke up a few minutes later. These were…’ he pauses for breath, ‘six broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade, a couple of bleeds on the brain and six broken vertebrae. When I came round, it felt like an elephant was standing on my chest.’
The Sussex Air Ambulance lifted Darren to hospital in Brighton, and he remains deeply grateful to them. Of all his injuries, his broken back was to prove the most serious, and at first there were doubts over whether he would walk again. But his surgeons rebuilt his spine with two titanium rods and eight titanium screws, and amazingly, just eight days after his fall, Darren managed to stand up on his own. After two weeks he could climb a flight of stairs and was well enough to be discharged. His high level of fitness was helping him to fight back to health, but there was still a long road ahead. Having to wear a full body brace, and in constant pain that made it hard even to sleep, Darren was told that recovery lay at least two years away.
For a self-employed person in a physical line of work, such news should have spelled financial disaster. And it would have – if Darren had not already taken steps to ensure that he did have a kind of safety net, after all.
Saved by accident?
By a twist of fate, Darren partly owed his financial security to another, much smaller accident that had happened about a year earlier. This one occurred not on scaffolding but in a car park. ‘It was just a silly thing. The car park was icy and I slipped over, put my hand out and broke my wrist.’
The fracture meant that Darren couldn’t work for a couple of weeks. As he was self-employed, this meant no income. It reminded him that in such a demanding job, even a small injury might keep him off for a month or more. Being the careful type, he already had accident insurance, but this would only cover him for any days spent in hospital – not all the time he might be off work.
So Darren hunted around online, and came across Drewberry (a firm specialising in both insurance and wealth management). ‘My adviser, Josh, was brilliant,’ he recalls. ‘We discussed my needs over about three weeks, to make sure I got exactly the right kind of cover. I’d never even heard of the insurer he recommended, but they really came through for me.’
That was in May 2019. In August, three months after taking out his policy, Darren fell off the scaffolding.
Income protection – the best kind of rainy-day fund
‘I’ve always been someone who puts money away for a rainy day,’ says Darren. ‘The thing is, you don’t know how hard and how long it’s going to rain for.’
Thanks to his income protection, Darren will now receive 50 per cent of his former income on an ongoing basis, for as long as it takes him to recover enough to return to work. His previous insurance would have stopped paying out as soon as he left hospital – that is, after just two weeks – and his savings would soon have been used up by the daily costs of living. This would have left Darren’s partner struggling to support them both.
‘We would both have been put under huge pressure,’ Darren reflects. ‘But not having those money worries means that I’ve been able to focus fully on my recovery.’ His goal now is simply to get fit again. ‘As fit as most people, anyway!’ he jokes.
A great believer in the power of positive thinking, Darren is certain that being optimistic has helped him to overcome his injuries. But one slip on the ice was enough to remind him that no-one is indestructible. With the help of Josh from Drewberry, he was able to put in place a back-up plan that paid off – just when he needed it most.
(Darren would like to send a special thank-you to the Sussex Air Ambulance service.)