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News

Student injured on Australian building site warns of dangers of working abroad

Johnathan Graham says he endured months of hospital treatment after being severely injured while working on a building site in Australia
Brendan Hughes

A STUDENT from Co Down says he feels lucky to have survived after being severely injured while working on a building site in Australia.

Johnathan Graham said he broke his back in three places and suffered head injuries after being hit by a large wooden beam during a gap year in Melbourne.

He told of his experience after hearing of the construction site accident in Australia earlier this week that claimed the lives of Joe McDermott and Gerry Bradley.

The young men from Northern Ireland died on Wednesday when a concrete slab fell on them at an apartment block development in Perth.

The double tragedy has led to calls in Australia for greater scrutiny of safety measures on building sites amid an investigation into what happened.

Mr Graham, a final year marketing student at Ulster University, said he spent several months recovering in hospital from his injuries.

The 24-year-old from Ballynahinch said his accident in November last year happened while he was helping to build an alfresco area at a house.

He said he was holding the end of a heavy 3.5m beam while on a ladder, when another worker carrying the other side lost his grip.

"The beam fell, bounced off the ground and hit me in the head. I fell off the ladder and broke my back," he said.

"If I hadn't moved my head at that moment it was 'night night'. I could have easily been a vegetable."

Mr Graham said he spent several months in hospital, both in Australia and the spinal ward of Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.

"I had to go through rehabilitation because I couldn't move half of my body," he said.

Mr Graham said he was reminded how "lucky" he was after hearing of the deaths in Perth.

He said he wanted to warn young people of the dangers while working abroad, urging them to ensure jobs are properly regulated and to have their own insurance cover for emergencies.

"Be careful – it's not paradise. You still have to work hard and be careful where you work," he said.

Meanwhile, a remembrance Mass for Joe McDermott and Gerry Bradley is scheduled to take place on Friday at St Joseph's Catholic Church in Perth.

Mr McDermott (24), from Omagh in Co Tyrone, had moved to Australia just weeks ago to begin a new life. His family said he was "so selfless and touched so many lives".

Mr Bradley (29), from near Coleraine in Co Derry, had been in Australia for nearly two years and began his new job only a week ago.

In a tribute his distraught family said he was "one of the happiest people you could ever meet" and had left them with "wonderful memories".

Construction firm Jaxon, which operated the site, has offered counselling to its employees and said safety is its "highest priority".

The Claddagh Association, a Perth-based group that assists Irish people in crisis, has been working with the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust to help make arrangements to bring their bodies home.

The double tragedy brings to nine the number of Irish deaths in the Perth area in just three weeks – including five in the past week.

Last Saturday 28-year-old Craigavon man Alan Haughey was killed in a car crash near Perth.

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