OHS Canada Magazine

News

Investigation of teacher’s death considers role of heat exposure

Winnipeg high-school teacher collapsed during outdoor field trip


(Canadian OH&S News) — Following the sudden death of a Winnipeg high-school teacher during an outdoor field trip on May 5, occupational health and safety investigators are examining whether the woman’s collapse resulted from the day’s high temperatures.

Darcee Gosselin, who worked at John Taylor Collegiate (JT), passed away while attending a group of students on a trip to Spruce Woods Provincial Park, about 180 kilometres west of Winnipeg. The specific cause of death has yet to be determined.

Workplace Safety and Health (WSH), the oh&s department of Manitoba Labour and Immigration, is investigating the fatality. A spokesperson with the provincial government said in an e-mailed response to COHSN that WSH was examining the possible role of heat stress in Gosselin’s death.

“WSH will look at whether workers were at risk of extreme heat exposure and if the measures implemented met WSH’s requirements for thermal stress,” said the source. “There is mention in the Workplace Safety and Health Act about employers having to ensure the safety, health and welfare of [their] workers and other persons, but WSH’s primary focus is the workers.

“There is nothing in the regulations about monitoring weather conditions, but that is an expectation.”

The temperature in the area of Spruce Woods reportedly rose as high as 35 degrees Celsius on the day of the incident. A separate source with WSH said that it had probably been as hot as 39 degrees Celsius.

JT posted a notice about the tragedy on the home page of its website, saying that the school community was deeply saddened by Gosselin’s passing.

“Darcee was an integral part of our JT family,” the notice read. “She was a caring and dedicated teacher who spent countless hours supervising a variety of activities and was most recently in charge of our graduation activities.

“Our staff and students will miss Darcee (The Wizard of Goz), and our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends.”

The St. James-Assiniboia School Division, the school board to which JT belongs, did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment before press time.

SAFE Work Manitoba (SWM), the province’s unified organization devoted to preventing workplace injury and illness, offers safety tips on its website for those working outdoors in high temperatures. “Extreme heat can cause a range of reactions from general discomfort to serious illness,” the organization said in a cautionary press release dated last July 13. “More serious situations can lead to heat stress, a condition in which the body is unable to control its internal temperature.”

Among SWM’s advice for increasing comfort and preventing heat stress:

— wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothes;
— take rest breaks;
— drink cool liquids when thirsty;
— schedule physically demanding tasks for cooler periods of the day;
— work in the shade and away from heat sources whenever possible;
— build up a tolerance to heat; and
— be aware of common symptoms of heat stress, such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, dry skin, rapid pulse or seizures.

“Employers should work with their safety and health committees, worker representatives or workers to create a hot weather plan and determine work procedures for periods of high temperatures,” added SWM in the release.