Experience: I got pulled into a conveyor belt by my scarf

I had worked on and off at Argos when they needed seasonal staff since I was 17. By Christmas 2007 I was 21, and I’d picked up regular shifts again. It was December in East Kilbride, and that means it was cold. On this particular morning I was unpacking a delivery in the stockroom, where the heating wasn’t working. I’d come wrapped up for warmth, a long woolly H&M scarf in a looped knot around my neck.

The stockroom was across two floors, with an industrial conveyor belt connecting the upper and lower levels. I was on delivery duty upstairs alone, with my colleagues downstairs. The only reason anyone would come up would be to use the staff bathroom.

After the delivery was done, I peered down the moving conveyor belt to make sure no stock had got stuck; it was standard procedure. That’s when both ends of my scarf – snugly wrapped around my windpipe – were yanked into the machinery.

Consumed by pure panic, I tried to pull back. But by tightening the material around my throat, my scarf was sucked in further. There was an emergency stop – but in the split-second I had to think, it didn’t cross my mind to reach for it. Then it was out of reach.

It all happened so fast. Almost immediately I was out of options. The conveyor belt begins with large metal rollers before a section that is more like a supermarket checkout. My head was edging closer to the gap between them, where it would be crushed. I found a moment of calm acceptance in certain death. Knowing there was nothing I could do, I felt strangely at ease with my fate.

See also  US warship sails by contested island chain in South China Sea in message to Beijing, official says

My head was pulled in face first towards the gap. I could not breathe. Except, as I braced myself for my demise, the conveyor unexpectedly stopped moving. I was still suffocating, my head jammed in the system. The safety mechanism that stopped hands getting stuck kicked in, but it wasn’t designed for a head, leaving me stuck.

The harder I pulled, the tighter the grip around my larynx. With time running out until asphyxiation claimed me, I frantically slapped the wall beside me.

Calling it luck feels like an understatement, because by chance another member of staff walked up the stairs, heading to the toilet.

I heard the muffled sound of shuffling feet and then someone stopping behind me. “Sean, are you OK?” I heard a voice – Gary’s – ask. With the last of the air in my lungs, I tried to croak the word “scissors”. A few more seconds passed; he remained still, presumably staring. We had a habit of playing practical jokes on each other – hiding in boxes, jumping out from shelves: he’d assumed I was pranking him. Still unaware if this was real, Gary decided to take action – just in case.

He turned the conveyor on in reverse. Once my scarf popped out, I fell to the floor, gasping. In under 90 seconds I’d faced down death, and been saved from it.

I was taken to hospital for an inspection of the burns and lacerations. Adrenaline had deferred the pain, which increased with every minute; my neck throbbed, radiating heat like fire. After an hour of checks, when I was alone for the first time in the corridor waiting for an X-ray, the magnitude of what had happened hit me. I sat and cried uncontrollably.

For a few years that followed, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was on borrowed time. Some people say coming close to death helped them make every second of life count, but I experienced the opposite. I repressed the trauma and was unable to think about or make plans for the future.

Ten years later, I was on safari in Kenya, when an armed robbery turned violent. It forced me to confront my demons; on my return, I started counselling for PTSD and anxiety. That’s when I finally got my head together.

Today, I avoid thinking about the finiteness of life; instead I try to leave marks that prove I’ve been here. I left a mark at Argos, too: after the incident, scarves and ties were banned across the company’s stockrooms. When my brother started shifts at a different branch a year later, he was told the story in his induction as a cautionary tale.

As told to Michael Segalov

Do you have an experience to share? Email


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more