OHS Canada Magazine

Untrained and alone: Sharing the story of Ian’s workplace death on the 25th anniversary

April 19, 2024
By Christine O'Donnell

Editor’s note: The following column was written by Christine O’Donnell about her cousin Ian. 

I would like to share a story of a workplace injury that is close to my heart.

He left the house like any other day to attend his job in the construction industry.

He was untrained and not prepared for the task requested by his supervisor.

He was only 28 years old. He had a wife. He was a new dad and stepfather.


He was working with defective equipment.

He was working on the shores of a lake and the equipment he was using was from an electrical source.

He was electrocuted and his death was due to drowning.

He died alone.

He was not given a chance to say “goodbye.”

He was laid to rest the day before his parents’ 30th wedding anniversary.

His name was Ian.

He was my cousin.

Marking 25 years

This year is the 25th anniversary of Ian’s death and to this very day my uncle’s eyes fill with tears at the mention of his name. My aunt is still devastated over the loss of her first born.

They say the most stressful life altering moment in time is the loss of a loved one.

The loss of one’s child, no matter the age, is inconceivable to most.

Ian’s two brothers Steve and Paul and sister Nancy lost their big brother.

Ian left behind a loving wife, a stepdaughter Samantha (then 8) and son Mark (then 5).

A photo

There is a photo of Ian and his children in a prominent place in my aunt and uncle’s home.

His face smiling in laughter at some joke long since forgotten, hugging his kids.

Many families like Ian’s have been tested and tried in ways too difficult to express with mere words.

No family should feel such devastating loss.

Training, training, training

Training, training, training ….is the phrase I have expressed in my job as a Health and Safety Inspector to many employers.

It is critical that everyone in the workplace has been trained to understand their role and responsibilities. To understand in a meaningful way that ensures compliance with the standards prescribed in Occupational Health and Safety.

The training must be equally delivered to the most senior manager, as she or he will be the role model of overall safety in the company. The middle managers must be trained to ensure that health and safety is more important than operational demands. The supervisors must be trained to ensure that health and safety is a daily concern, every hour of the day.

A comprehensive Occupational Health and Safety Program results in a safer and more productive workplace.

The employees must be trained to not just know their rights and responsibilities, but to understand them and be empowered to act if or when required. Finally, is the “newly hired” employee. He or she must be trained to know all the hazards of the workplace before day one. There should be no such thing as “on the job training.”  The newest employee should be protected with training, knowledge, and the ability to ensure their own safety at work before they take the first step of operating equipment or the workload.

When I first started my job as a Health and Safety Inspector, I reviewed many investigations. I still recall reading my first fatality file. There was a photo of a covered body at the scene.  Extended from the cover was a hand.  He was wearing a wedding band.  I immediately thought of his wife and children. It may not have been my personal loss; however, it did leave an imprint that 15 years later I can still remember.

In my role as an Inspector, I conduct hazardous occurrence investigations in the workplace. The purpose of such assignments is to determine the root cause of the incident. To determine if there were any violations of the Occupational Health and Safety legislation. To take action with the employer, to ensure that there will not be any further incidents.

It is with a focus of prevention.

Meaningful and fully understood training improves the overall knowledge of all parties in the workplace. The responsibility of health and safety is embraced by all. Workers are encouraged to look out for each other, with the empowerment to stop a short cut, or stop the operation, so to swiftly address a health and safety issue.

Not “get the ticky” training, not “on the job training”, not “read this when you get a chance” training.

Young workers most vulnerable

Young workers are the most vulnerable at work. They are usually male, under 30 and with experience less than one year.

Ian was a male under 30 with less than a year of experience. He was untrained, only getting the “on the job” training. Yet clearly, he was more than a statistic.

He was a cherished son of my aunt and uncle.

He was a big brother.

He was a husband and a dad of two young children.

He was my cousin.

His name was Ian.

Thank you for letting me share my story.


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