PotlatchDeltic, one of the county’s largest employers, brought in guest speaker Kina Hart to share an important message with St. Maries High School students, Wednesday, May 22.
“That day that changes your life forever starts out like any other day.” Ms. Hart said to the crowd of students gathered in the gymnasium.
Ms. Hart wanted to be a dentist when she grew up, but after a workplace accident that would never happen.
At the age of 20, Ms. Hart took a job in Alaska working for a fish processing plant to pay her way through college.
“My father was a logger, tree faller, he didn’t make a lot of money. My mom stayed home with us…they thought college was a good idea,” she said.
Eager to work, after not being scheduled for any shifts, Ms. Hart approached the plant foreman.
“I’m a good worker she told him and if you give me a chance, I won’t disappoint you,” she said.
The foreman gave her that chance, and Ms. Hart got to work in the plant full of heavy machinery and conveyer belts.
It would be her job to clean the belts.
Her first task was cleaning a two-inch roller. She would maneuver her way under the rollers and clean them from underneath as they were operating.
“I would scrub the underside of the roller with a sponge. And as I would clean, occasionally, I’d lose the sponge in the roller and have to wait for it to come through the other side...” she said, “And I remember thinking ‘I’m not sure if I should be cleaning this machine while it’s running… I thought to myself this seems dangerous,” she said.
Ms. Hart was afraid she would get hurt.
“Listen to that instinct,” she said to the students.
Ms. Hart ignored that instinct, eager to impress her boss she said, she did not want to show her inexperience.
“I remember the sound my arm made when it broke,” she said. “I remember thinking I hope someone turns off this machine.”
Ms. Hart’s arm became caught in a 24-inch roller, after somebody turned it on, while she was cleaning.
“My arm went up and around the roller,” she said. “I reached out with my right arm and held on as tight as I could because I realized it was the only way I could keep the rest of me from being pulled in.”
She said could not even cry out for help because the jacket she’d been wearing pulled over her head.
“I remember thinking I hope someone finds me,” she said.
Eventually another worker did find her. He did not know what to do.
“I remember thinking, ‘turn off the machine, turn off the machine,’” she said. “He froze…he didn’t know what to do…he screamed and screamed.”
Ms. Hart would lose consciousness trapped in the machine before being rescued.
The accident cost her, her left arm, and her dream of being a dentist—the reason she’d taken the job in the first place.
Her message to students was simple, “You need to know you have rights, the right to be trained, the right to a safe work environment, the right to say no,” Ms. Hart said. “No job is worth losing an arm.”
She encouraged students to not be afraid to ask questions, and to speak up about safety concerns.
PotlatchDeltic St. Maries Complex Manager Steve Henson said that they want to encourage students to work and play with their safety in mind.
Ms. Hart also spoke to PotlatchDeltic crews at the mill sight.
“This is a very special place to live and work. People in Benewah County work hard and play hard,” Mr. Henson said. “We want to make sure people are aware of their surroundings and stay safe…Stories are very powerful; stories stay with you. So, we are hoping Kira’s story stays with you,” he said to the students “Whether you work for us or wherever you go we hope you take this with you.”