Matthew Bowcott

Matthew Bowcott

It was just another routine night shift in the kitchen at the restaurant where Matthew worked as a cook. As part of his closing up duties, he'd emptied the deep fryers and was carrying a 10- gallon saucepot of 375-degree oil for disposal.

One of the other cooks was busy with one of his own duties — spraying the kitchen floor. As Matthew was carrying the pot of hot oil, he had a gut feeling that something was not right, but ignored it and carried on.

At that moment, his feet slipped sideways on the wet ceramic tile and down he went, spilling hot oil on his body and face. It happened so quickly, Matthew didn't have time to turn away. The oil came within a quarter of an inch of his eyes, nose, and mouth. Had he swallowed it, his organs would have been burned, and he would have lost his life.

The kitchen staff immediately threw him outside and started spraying his body with a hose in an attempt to wash off the oil and bring his body temperature down. Fortunately, there was an ambulance sitting in the parking lot next to the restaurant, and Matthew was immediately rushed to hospital. Those two events helped save his life.

"The pain was so bad that I didn't want to live," Matthew says. "I said, 'You know what God, don't even save me — just let me go.'" Due to the trauma to his body, the medical staff didn't think Matthew would survive the night. Shortly after being admitted, Matthew flatlined for two minutes, forcing the doctors to sedate him and put him on life support.

Matthew spent the next three weeks in the burn unit at Vancouver General Hospital, getting treatment for the severe burns that covered more than 40 percent of his body. He also received a skin graft from his thigh onto his shoulder and chest — a painful process not only for him, but for his family and friends, who were there to support his recovery.

Matthew's experiences that night in the kitchen and throughout his recovery have given him a new perspective on health and safety.

"If the work environment is unsafe for young workers, injuries are inevitable," he says. "We need to emphasize safety and training for everyone — especially new and young workers."

Matthew doesn't want young workers to have to learn the painful way, like he did. So, he travels the province, talking to students and workers about their rights. He wants them to understand that if they don't feel safe, they need to say no. They have the right to a safe workplace and the right to be properly trained. And if that training isn't made available, they have the right to demand it.