Virginia Campeau will never forget the day she lost her husband in a workplace incident.
“I’m here to talk to you today because my husband Paul cannot,” she said during the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s (WSIB) Day of Mourning virtual service. “On Jan. 6, 2015, Paul left for work in the morning and never returned home.”
The National Day of Mourning, held each year on April 28, honours those who have lost their lives or suffered an injury or illness due to their work.
Campeau’s husband was a sand truck operator, sanding down roads for the winter. On that fateful day, she texted him multiple times but didn’t receive a response. She fell asleep waiting for him to come home that night and when she woke up at 3 a.m. he still wasn’t home.
“I finally got a hold of one of his employers and they told me that they would go check things out and get back to me,” she recalled. “Again, I ended up falling asleep only to be woken up by a knock at the door around 7:30 a.m. the next morning. Thinking it was Paul, I automatically jumped out of bed and raced to the door and instead of Paul it was two police officers who proceeded to tell me that Paul had an accident at work and Paul had passed away.”
Workplace dangers should be identified
A few days later she found out that her husband somehow became lodged in the auger that was in the back of the truck inside the hopper.
“Paul was working alone so nobody really knows what exactly happened but when they found Paul, he was completely frozen solid,” said Campeau. “They had to do a partial amputation on one of his legs and dismantle the truck to dislodge him from that auger. His right arm and leg were completely mangled. Nobody knows how much blood he lost because the blood was mixed in with the sand.”
Months later she learned the truck her husband was operating had issues.
“When the weather got really cold the auger would jam, preventing the sand from filtering through and they were using a shovel as a temporary solution to get that auger going again,” said Campeau. “When they found Paul, there was a shovel beside his body.”
Campeau said the National Day of Mourning is a time to light a candle and remember her husband and all families that have been affected by a workplace tragedy.
“It’s also a time to remember that these people have names and they are not just a number on a statistics board,” she concluded.
COVID-19 affirms need to focus on safety in the workplace
Elizabeth Witmer, chair of the WSIB, said the day is an opportunity to renew the commitment to keeping workplaces safe and preventing these devastating occurrences from happening to others.
“For the second year the COVID-19 pandemic has added another tragic layer to our Day of Mourning,” said Witmer. “This pandemic has reminded us that preventing any illness or injury has to be the top priority of any workplace, not just today but every day. Last year too many deaths in Ontario were attributed to workplace injuries and illnesses including those caused by COVID-19.”
Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s minister of labour, training and skills development, pointed out that COVID-19 is a very real workplace hazard.
“To beat this deadly virus we can’t let our guard down,” he noted. “Our inspectors have visited tens of thousands of businesses over the past year providing education and enforcement when necessary. I’m so pleased to say these efforts are working. During recent follow up visits we’ve seen a significant increase in compliance rates from small businesses in some cases up to 20 per cent higher.”
Incidents can be avoided
Tom Bell, acting president and CEO of the WSIB, said people often refer to workplace deaths and injuries as tragic accidents as if they could not have been prevented.
“In the vast majority of workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses, part of the tragedy lies in the fact that they could have been prevented,” he said. “Often steps to prevent them are not taken because people are not aware of the hazard and how to protect themselves and others against it.
“But the need to protect people at work did not begin with the onset of this pandemic nor will it cease with its end. One potential consequence of the pandemic is that everyone understands a little better the importance of health and safety at work.”
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