May 28, 2013
Mother’s day has come and gone. My son and our friend took me to brunch. It was a happy day for me, but my thoughts kept returning to something very sad. A friend of mine – also my “ex-mother-in-law” (or “outlaw mom”) – lost her son in a mountain biking accident last year. He was the father of my son, and also a dear friend of mine after the initial turbulence of family break-up. It hit hard to get the news, and everyone is processing it in their own way.
I kept wondering how his mom might feel on Mother’s Day – thinking about her lost son. I expect she was enjoying the good memories, savouring them, as she does. Their family self-published a beautiful picture book with stories of his life recently, and they are very good at keeping “the good” alive in memory.
But I couldn’t help thinking about the feeling of loss. I’ve heard it said the worst type of loss to deal with is loss of your child. It made me look at my own son at lunch and feel a pang in my heart to imagine it. I knew she was with her husband – a.k.a. Grandpa – on a vacation well-timed to absorb their heavy emotions, and support one another. They have a daughter and grandchildren and her mom/Gran role is still strong.
Losing a son
Shirley Hickman – A mother’s story is a new podcast from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health. In it, she shares her personal story of how losing her son in a workplace accident affected her life and inspired her to create an organization for other people dealing with this kind of family tragedy.
Feeling “loss” takes many forms and can go through many phases, and it can be helpful to makes sense of one’s own feelings when you hear what it’s like for someone else.
The Steps for Life Walk is an annual event in which money is raised for programs run by Threads of Life for family programs, counselling, and other support.
April 02, 2013
A new Hazard Alert from NIOSH, Dangers of Bathtub Refinishing was published in Feb 2013. The American Society of Safety engineers also wrote this blog post in March Methylene Chloride Hazards for Bathtub Refinishers.
Since 2000, 14 workers in the US have died while doing this job. When I saw the new alert, posted on Twitter, it reminded me of a tragic story I heard last summer.
A 52-year-old worker died in a small, poorly ventilated bathroom of an apartment while using methylene chloride as a stripping agent. He was found “slumped over the tub on his knees with his face in the tub,” according to NIOSH.
All the deaths “involved the use of paint-stripping products containing methylene chloride, a highly volatile, colorless and toxic chemical that is widely used as a degreaser and paint stripper,” reads the article in Medical News Today. An in-depth report on the incidents is available from NIOSH’s Fatality Assessment and Control.
Exposure to extremely high levels of methylene chloride can be fatal. You could survive if you got away from this source that can result in what is described as “effects on the central nervous system (CNS) including decreased visual, auditory, and psychomotor functions” by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
While this type of tragedy is relatively rare, there are many chemicals to be wary of. Please review these resources, and be cautious with what you work with.
Also see Pages 8 to 11 of the Paint safety primer from ACTSafe.
January 15, 2013
Older farm workers are more likely to be injured while using machines than their younger counterparts, says a new Canadian study.
“The study concluded older farmers work fewer hours than their younger counterparts but spend more time operating heavy machinery and equipment,” says this post in the Ponoka News, which I learned about via enews from the Canadian Agricultutral Safety Association.
“Older farmers disproportionally retain tasks involving machinery as they age. The proportion of time spent operating machinery increases 40 per cent in older age groups,” reads the Ponoka News post. “…the machines they’re using are usually the oldest on the farm.”
Dangers of farming
Kenda Lubeck – farm safety coordinator for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development – told me about the risks of this industry last year during the “I Have A Role” campaign for 2012. She said 18 people die in farm-related incidents each year in Alberta, which is why the new campaign targets emphasizes everyone in the agricultural industy – including parents, farm owners, workers, equipment dealers, and community groups.
“By creating conversation around safety, it may just remind someone to take the time to install ROPS (roll over protective structures) on their tractors or to take that final walk around their equipment before heading out on the job,” Kenda said. “Farm injuries and fatalities are preventable.”
The Alberta Farm Safety Centre reports there were 1,769 agricultural fatalities in Canada from 1990 to 2005. Its website says “agriculture ranks as Canada’s third most hazardous industry” and “in terms of absolute numbers of fatalities, there is no more dangerous occupation.”
Agricultural machines were involved in 70.9% of fatalities.
The “older worker” factor
What happens as we age?
“We don’t see or hear as well,” said WorkSafeBC senior ergonomist Peter Goyert, quoted in this WorkSafe Magazine story. “Our colour perception deteriorates. Our reflexes slow down and we don’t sleep as well. We’re less flexible and our range of motion shrinks. Our bones thin, our balance declines, and we lose muscle and respiratory and cardiovascular function.”
But let’s look on the positive side. I used the term “chronologically gifted” in my post In praise of older workers, quoting NIOSH director John Howard, who spoke on Workers Memorial Day 2011.
“As more and more chronologically gifted workers are on the job, we must be aware of the unique challenges they face, and design our health and safety interventions accordingly,” he said. “No one should face the prospect of injury, illness, exploitation, or death in earning a paycheck.”
Here’s more information on farming safety. Please add any suggestions in the Comments.
Canadian Agriculture Safety Week 2013 – March 10 to 16, 2013
Canada Farm Safe Plan – a national safety and health plan for farmers from the Canadian Agriculture Safety Association
Safety resources on the Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association website
Recent incidents in agriculture on the WorkSafeBC website
Farmer crushed by irrigation wheel – a hazard alert from WorkSafeBC
April 12, 2012
One hundred and forty-two people died from workplace injury and illness in 2011 in BC.
They will be remembered – along with far too many others – at Day of Mourning ceremonies throughout BC on April 27 and 28. The ceremony taking place at the new Vancouver Convention Centre on April 27 at 10:30 a.m. will also be available via the WorkSafeBC website.
To honour the memory of fallen workers, you can wear and display Day of Mourning decals and posters, which can be ordered from WorkSafeBC (ideally by April 20).
Sharing memories in a public way shows respect for those who died, and hopefully reminds us what to avoid at all costs. Read more
February 14, 2012
It could be months before investigators know what started an explosion and fire that killed two workers and injured 19 on January 20 at the Babine Mill near Burns Lake, BC. One possible cause is combustible dust explosion, but it’s still way too early to know for sure.
This story in the Burns Lake District News takes an in-depth look at combustible dust, quoting Al Johnson, WorkSafeBC’s regional director, who says it’s too soon to conclude dust is the cause because there would need to be an ignition source for the explosion.
The story references a WorkSafeBC report from December 28, 2011, that says an unacceptably high concentration of pine wood dust was found in the mill basement. But it may be a long time before we know more. Right now, the community is mourning the death of two dads, along with all the other injuries to people and the uncertainty of their jobs.
Other mills taking stock
Crofton Pulp and Paper Mill is reported to be “watching to see what kind of safety lessons can be learned from the Burns Lake fire,” according to this story in the Cowichan Valley News Online HQ.
The story quotes mill manager Rob Belanger, manager of this mill which I once visited when I was a reporter on Vancouver Island in the 1990s. Belanger said their safety practices include a joint health and safety committee, a “multi-level safety program,” and a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule for all machines.
Dangers of dust
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says hundreds of workers have been killed or injured by dust explosions in past decades.
“They can seem like harmless substances – sugar, coal, wood dust, flour – however in certain conditions and across many industrial processes, dust from these – and other substances can become the fuel for an explosion,” reads the CCOHS website.
Health Canada uses the term “explosible” in its publication Hazard-Specific Issues – Dust Explosibility in reference to dust that can cause an explosion – to avoid confusion with the term “explosive” which refers to “dusts dispersed as a cloud and ignited.”
This video – from the US Chemical Safety Board – tells the story of 14 workers fatally burned in a series of sugar dust explosions in the US in February 2008.
More resources on combustible dust
Arc ignites sawdust in service panel Injury Hazard Alert 06-06 from WorkSafeBC.
April 26, 2011
Greg Shoesmith was only 22 when he died at work, operating a logging skidder near Barriere, BC.
His story is featured in a new book called Forget Me Not – Canadian Stories of Workplace Tragedy from the Families’ Perspective.
As Greg drove his empty skidder along a ridge, he hit a strip of shale with his skidder’s right track. The skidder began to slide.
“Immediately below the ridge was a 1.8 metre embankment. Momentum sent the skidder over the embankment. It rolled over onto its roof, back on its track, and onto its roof again before finally righting itself,” reads the family’s story, written by Scott Williams.
Book sales to raise money for families
I heard about this unique book: Forget Me Not – published by Threads of Life – from Leslie Heatherington, who offered me a chance to read “Losing Greg” – one of 21 stories in the book – in advance of the book’s official launch on April 28 on the Day of Mourning to remember workers who have lost their lives.
A goal of Forget Me Not is to be a wake-up call to create safer workplaces for all, including the most vulnerable. It includes stories from the families of people who died while working in mining, industrial, construction, electrical, auto shop, elevator, rail, fisheries, recreational, forestry, transportation, maintenance, agricultural, carpentry, iron working, municipal, and groundskeeping.
Would you like a free copy of Forget Me Not?
Leslie also offered me two copies of the book: one to keep and one to give away. If you would like to have a free copy of this book, please comment below or tweet a link to this post on Twitter using the hashtag #forgetmenotbk
All names will be entered into a random draw on April 28, 2011 at noon.
March 10, 2011
The Weekly Toll: Death in the American Workplace is a memorial blog that tells the stories of people who die at work in the United States.
Up to 16 Americans die at work each day and the United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities formed to remember them and lobby for improved safety conditions.
“Our lost loved ones were the very ones making your profit. We are not asking for more than we are entitled to, Our Right, The Right to a Safe and Healthful Workplace,” reads the USMWF’s website.
“We are the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and children of America. Families and their losses are not a number or a statistic.” Read more
March 03, 2011
Steps For Life is a fundraising walk to raise money for families who lost loved ones in workplace tragedies. On April 30 or May 1, 2011, people in 33 Canadian communities will walk together and remember the human faces behind the statistics.
“We set up pictures and stories, on the walk, of people who have died throughout the year. As you’re walking you get to read the real person’s story,” said Tanya Steele – one of the organizers of Metro Vancouver’s second annual Steps For Life walk on April 30.
“It’s recognizing the reality of how many people are actually killed at work. I think it’s important for people to understand that people are still dying at work. That is ridiculous. People shouldn’t be dying at work,” said Tanya, director of training and client services at ER Plus Risk Management Group in Richmond.
I met Tanya at the NAOSH Week awards last fall and called her recently to see what she’s working on these days. She told me about her volunteer work with Steps For Life, a project she’s doing with two of her coworkers and other volunteers from the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers and Threads of Life – a national organization formed in 2003 by grieving family and friends.
ER Plus is supplying first aid services for the Metro Vancouver walk – and local sponsors are still needed for contributing food and other donations to this family event that marks the start of NAOSH Week. Last year, it was mainly adults, but organizers are hoping more kids will attend this time. They might even get a bouncy castle!
Interested sponsors can email Tanya at email@example.com.
October 14, 2010
If you drive your own car at work, you’re part of what’s called “the grey fleet” and your car is considered part of your workplace. Sales people, home care workers, and house cleaners are in the grey fleet – and once upon a time so was I.
This made me especially curious about the cover article in the Sept/Oct 2010 issue of WorkSafe Magazine, which says vehicle collisions are second only to asbestos exposure as a cause of worker deaths. Read more
July 28, 2010
The photos are of real people – not actors – and they aim for the heart, with messages like: “Slow down. My grandpa works here.”
More than 50 families volunteered to use their images for the campaign and I saw my first one last year by the Canada Line project in Richmond. The smiling images of the working mom with her cute kids, looked out at the road, reminding drivers: “My mom works here.”
Human beings work here
This sends a powerful message. These workers are human beings with families. They are not just annoying obstacles slowing you down.
The current “Slow Down” campaign reminds me of a conversation I had with a safety manager on the Lions Gate Bridge project in 2000. Her name was Nicky Wilson and she said traffic was the biggest risk to workers.