2019 marks my 12th year covering occupational health and safety news for OHS Canada. During the past decade or so, I have learned much not just about the art of writing and editing. I have also gained an understanding of the breadth and complexity of workplace-safety issues and how the human factor interacts with it.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work as an oh&s journalist is to have people open up to me and share their personal experiences with work accidents.
The severe physical injury or personal loss might have occurred many years ago, but the people who went through these experiences still recall vividly the events that led up to the incident. Time, it seems, has little effect on erasing the indelible mark that the trauma had imprinted on their minds and hearts. In other words, people move on, but they never forget.
I have also talked to fathers who lost their sons or daughters, widows whose soulmates were killed at work and employees who struggled with survivor guilt for living to tell the tale of a job-related accident while their colleagues did not.
One common thread that connects these people is that there is no closure; only acceptance — acceptance that they cannot turn back the clock and bring their loved one back, or replay the sequence of events so that things can be done right and prevent the mishap from occurring in the first place.
For some people, acceptance is not enough. They have transformed their pain into a calling by becoming safety advocates so that others would not have to go through what they did. Shining examples of people who have turned their grief into a driving force to bring about public good include the following: Rob Ellis, founder of MySafeWork, whose son was killed on his second day on the job; safety and motivational speaker Kina Repp who was maimed while taking on a summer job at an Alaskan fish cannery; and Janice Martell, founder of the McIntyre Powder Project. Martell, whose father was one of many miners who had inhaled finely ground aluminum dust known as McIntyre Powder that was administered to miners in northern Ontario between 1943 and 1979 to protect them against silicosis, created a registry for these exposed miners.
Oh&s reporting is a responsibility that I have always taken seriously. My job is not only to educate and inform; it is also to probe and ask questions. People who relive their pain by sharing their stories of personal loss with me seek answers that will hopefully help them make sense of what has happened. They want their stories to be told. For some, they want justice to be served.
Occupational safety is more than just compliance. Behind each statistic is a human face and numerous disrupted lives that will never be the same again. One quote that I will always remember came from a father who lost his son to a job accident. He described the loss as an open wound in his heart over which scar tissue forms through time. Every time he touches that wound, he knows his son is there.
As I move on to the next challenge in my career, I want to thank all my readers and people who have given me the honour of telling their stories, many of which have touched my heart.