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Washington Mill Worker Has Workplace Safety Message for High Schoolers

Here's the part of our interview with Matt Pomerinke that didn't air on the radio.

And now a warning, this next story has some graphic elements that you might not want children to hear.

We had an interesting guest stop by the station recently. His name is Matt Pomerinke. He's a papermaker who works in Longview, Washington. He calls himself a ‘millbilly.” This was one of his days off. He’d come to the other side of the mountains to talk with students. He was accompanied by two men from the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, which gives you a hint about his reason for being here. Here’s another hint: part of his left forearm is made of metal.

“Yes it is. Actually I have two different styles of these. This one’s more metal and it’s actually a little more computerized," Pomerinke said. "It’s really good for my work when I’m doing my stock job because I’m around a lot of water and chemicals and this one’s chemical-resistant and water-resistant. I also have another one that’s more plastic and a little lighter weight. It’s one I usually wear more often just because of how heavy it is.”

Eighteen years ago, Matt Pomerinke lost part of his arm in an industrial accident. Now in addition to his vocation as a papermaker, he’s an advocate for workplace safety, especially with high school students. And there’s certainly a need for that message. According to Labor and Industries, 675 people younger than 18 were hurt at the workplace in Washington last year. That number has steadily risen during the last five years. Most of the injuries are minor, cuts, sprains and burns. About two-thirds of those injured were 17 years old, almost one-third were 16.    

Pomerinke was 21 when he was hurt. He was finishing up a shift at the lumber mill.

As you can imagine, that accident had a profound effect on Pomerinke’s life. He went back to work at a paper mill and got involved in workplace safety issues.