George of all trades, master of bugs

Published on: June 19, 2023

Former pro athlete won’t let a workplace injury slow him down

By Tiffany Sloan

George Forgie has had a long and storied career. It began with hockey — he played for 13 years on teams across Canada and the United States, and was named the Detroit Red Wings' number-one draft pick in 1965. Then he hosted his own fishing show on CTV — "Fishing with Forgie" — for 12 years in Manitoba.

Next he sold cars, managing dealerships in Winnipeg, Vancouver, and then Kelowna. Most recently, he's spent the last 25 years making a name for himself in pest control, ridding Okanagan homes and businesses of rats, snakes, bedbugs, and other uninvited guests.

Yet despite a resumé a mile long, it wasn't until 2021 that George, now 75, experienced his first workplace injury and filed a claim with WorkSafeBC.

"We have a lot of termites out here and dealing with them involves a lot of drilling into concrete," explains George.

All that heavy drilling eventually led to painful carpal tunnel syndrome and trigger finger in both of George's hands.

George's medical team determined he needed surgery on his left hand, which took place in November 2021; his right hand was treated with steroid injections. WorkSafeBC connected George with a physiotherapist, and he worked diligently to regain function in his hands. "Rehab has been amazing," he says. "My hands have gone from claw-like to almost back to normal and pain free."

An early return works out the bugs

It can take a while to fully recover from hand surgery, but George had no interest in puttering around the house. "When I asked the doctor how long I was going to be off, he said probably six to eight weeks. I asked, ‘Can I go back to work early?'"

That turned out to be a question for not only his doctor but also his employer, Steve Ball Sr., owner of BugMaster Pest Control in Kelowna, and David Poelzer, return-to-work specialist at WorkSafeBC.

In April 2022, once George had recovered sufficiently for his surgeon to approve a modified return to work, David worked with George and Steve to identify duties George could do without aggravating his injury.

The first opportunity they found was for George to staff BugMaster's booth at an upcoming trade show, networking with customers. Next, he started "riding along" on pest control jobs for the clients George services on a regular basis; another technician completed the manual labour, while George went along to share his expertise and maintain the relationship with the customer.

It's called an "extra worker" position, explains David, who describes it as a great way for a worker to stay attached to their workplace while safely recovering from an injury. "It's so important for the worker to get back into their work environment with the people they relate to. It gives them confidence that they're maintaining their skill set, it boosts their morale, and ultimately it really helps with their recovery process."

Moreover, the employer benefits from the worker's knowledge and skills while WorkSafeBC pays the worker's wages. It allows the employer to retain a skilled and knowledgeable employee.

"George is a valued member of the BugMaster team," says Steve, who was relieved to have George back at work earlier than anticipated. "His years of experience in pest control are drawn on by every member of our staff. It is invaluable to have a go-to person for advice on specific issues related to this business. We're grateful to have him."

Recovery puts retirement on the back burner

While the surgery on George's left hand was a success and he returned to full duties at work, the steroid treatment in his right hand proved to be a temporary measure; George ultimately required surgery on his right hand in December 2022. And again, he was keen to get out in the field as soon as it was safe for him to do so.

He was back at work by March, again with modified duties that would facilitate his recovery. These involved doing monthly equipment service checks, spraying for bugs, and setting traps — but no drilling for termites.

"Being off all that time was a good lesson for me," says George. "People said, ‘Why don't you just retire?' No, I don't want to retire now. I got a taste of retirement. I like to stay active."

This information originally appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of WorkSafe Magazine. To read more or to subscribe, visit WorkSafe Magazine.

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