Safety and Health Week May 1-7 2022. Photo shows a miner in a mining hat.

[Following is the text of Shirley’s speech given at the launch for Safety and Health Week 2022]

Here we are once more marking Safety and Health Week. Companies and organizations across Canada, the United States and Mexico come together to create awareness of workplace safety. One question that’s always on my mind: Why do we need a special day or a special week? Every day is about promoting a safe and healthy work environment for all workers. Imagine that world for a moment. Remember the song by Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World this would be.

How wonderful if there were no workplace fatalities in 2022. Well, it is too late for this year, so let’s keep trying for the future.

You could talk to any of our Threads of Life family members and that is the message you would hear. Let’s keep trying for the future – a future where workers return home well at the end of their working shift. Why? So they can enjoy time with their family, go golfing with their buddies, perhaps camping or hiking even in their retirement years. Time to enjoy with friends or on a vacation.

Sadly today, for three Canadian family members that dream will end. The lives of their family members, their friends, those they play ball with or have a beer with, will all change. They will change forever.

Since our family’s life changed March 23, 1996, there have been 26 times that we have mourned not sharing a birthday meal or having a chuckle over something funny Tim may have said or done. When the last lecture you give your child, is the ‘drinking and driving’ message as he is spreading his peanut butter on his toast in order to get to work for 6.30 in the morning, how ironic it was a safety message. Tim and his friends were planning to go out to celebrate their 21st birthdays. That celebration never came. Instead, they gathered in a waiting room at the hospital, with the hope their good friend would live. The explosion at the arena that claimed Tim’s life shook our family and Tim’s friends off the ground. In time and step-by-step, we would learn to balance life once again – always with the void.

Our family was very fortunate; family, friends and the community surrounded us. Our family had been very involved with a number of organizations and everyone tried their best to offer support. We tried joining a bereaved families group. Those members, while they live with the death of a child, had no understanding of the investigations and the legal systems involved with a workplace tragedy. Waiting for the investigations, sitting in a courtroom to hear what had happened, to sit again during an inquest for suggestions on what could be done to prevent this kind of tragedy. The years of waiting and waiting for more. We quickly realized there is no justice and as a family, we made the decision to honour Tim’s life and work with any organization willing to try to make a difference.

It didn’t take long before those opportunities were provided to our family and I was invited to share with Ministry of Labour inspectors the challenges of living with such a loss. Across Canada, health and safety organizations, including Ministries of Labour and WCBs were all looking at initiatives to decrease injuries to young workers. Our voice became part of that awareness and Tim’s legacy started to grow into workplace safety.

Along the way, family members started to reach out to me and with the help of many, Threads of Life came into being. Now Threads of Life is able to be a safe and soft landing spot for other Canadian family members when tragedy strikes their home – whether that is a fatality, a life-altering injury or a diagnosis of occupational disease. Lives forever changed.

While currently 3,200 Canadian family members are receiving services from Threads of Life, we know there are many more who may benefit from the peer support – having someone who is travelling on a similar journey walk beside you.

How fitting we spend this week focused on workplace safety and just a few days ago, on the National Day of Mourning, we all stopped to reflect on the lives of Canadian workers and their family members. Lives forever changed. And it is not just the worker or the family or the friends who are affected, but each co-worker, the employer, the paramedics, the doctors and nurses who tend to these people.

If you know someone living with a serious life-altering workplace injury or illness or a family living with a fatality, please share that Threads of Life is here to journey with them.  Often people need to be reminded more than one time and by more than one person. We who are in the depths of grief have a difficult time remembering or understanding.

Back to the song: What a Wonderful World It Would Be if there were no more workplace tragedies.

Together, we all have an opportunity – this Safety and Health week, every week and each day, to make that wonderful world a reality.

Shirley Hickman