April 28, 2022, is recognized as the National Day of Mourning across Canada. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety the day is not only a day to remember and honour those lives lost or injured due to a workplace tragedy, but also a day to collectively renew our commitment to improve health and safety in the workplace and prevent further injuries, illnesses and deaths.
”It was nine years ago but it still feels just like yesterday. So for me I’ve been attending the day of mourning ceremonies almost every year since he passed away,” said Leea Boxall, whose father John was killed on the job.
John Boxall was killed by an impaired driver while out doing deliveries in February of 2013. In 2019, machinist Steven Brown was killed by a part that flew out of the machine he had worked with for many years according to his daughters.
”It’s hard when you lose someone in an accident whether it be a car accident or going to work and I think too because it’s hard to wrap your head around ‘goodbye, go to work dad’ and you don’t return that day,” said Alicia Webber, daughter of Steven Brown.
The national day of mourning aims to remember them and many others while creating awareness to prevent further tragedy. WorkSafe Saskatchewan reports that 31 people were killed on the job in the province in 2021.
”There’s definitely frustration for sure. Still, for me it’s a little bit of anger as well because every one of them is preventable. They are needless and especially when I think of my dad it was something that should never have happened,” Boxall said.
Her sister who works for the Regina Police Service was the first to find out about their father’s death.
”You hear about getting that knock on the door and in my case it was my sister that had to share that news with us. I can’t imagine even now what that was like for her. It’s a knock on the door that nobody ever wants, but in a split second life changed,” Boxall said with a pause.
On the national day of mourning, advocates like Leea want people to be relentless about safety in the workplace and remind us that the issue is nothing to be complacent about no matter how easy it can be to fall into a routine.
”Just knowing we’re not alone. There are so many people in Saskatchewan, here in Canada that lose people every single day from workplace accidents that probably could have been prevented,” Webber said.
The preventability is what makes the loss even harder for family to accept. Just two weeks before John’s incident, the Boxalls were rejoicing.
”We had been out celebrating his birthday and also he had gotten information from his doctor that he was now cancer-free and so you go from celebrating such an enormous thing and in a split second he’s gone,” Boxall said.
No matter how much time passes, the families can’t help but reflect on how much all of their lives changed on those fateful days.
”My son wasn’t even two and my daughter wasn’t even four and just knowing that they won’t grow up with their grandpa who was their papa. He was such a fantastic man and such a great grandfather so it severely impacts families when their loved ones don’t come home,” said Brown’s daughter, Tara Elliott, as she fought back tears.
Family members continue to advocate for workplace safety in hopes of sparing others from the pain their fathers’ accidents caused them.
”With my dad if I could speak out and if it could make one person think about what they’re doing which could prevent them from getting hurt or hurting somebody else then in some way that brings some kind of meaning to it,” Boxall said.
”This whole incident inspired me to change my career and I’m now a healthy and safety coordinator in Saskatchewan working for a paving company and I hope to prevent incidents like this from happening again,” Elliott said.
Both Tara and her sister Alicia hope that people will ask more safety questions of potential employers before starting a new job.
”I just beg employers to be more proactive rather than reactive. Don’t wait for an incident like this to happen where it affects innumerable people and your company’s record. Put steps in place before it’s too late,” Elliott said.
”We need to take it into our own hands and make sure that we’re safe and that we protect ourselves before we are relying on someone else to take care of us,” Webber said.
“Advocate for your own safety. If you don’t feel safe doing something in your workplace know that you have the right to refuse and to protect yourself and your family members from losing you,” Elliott added.
On Sunday, both Regina and Saskatoon will host “Steps for Life” which is a fundraising walk to support families affected by workplace tragedy. While the event is a great time to reflect, remember and raise money, the group environment is a boost for morale when dealing with such a devastating life event.
”It’s a huge support. It’s just knowing that like I said everybody has gone through something and their own story is different but we share that kind of common feeling. Just to have people that just understand is so helpful,” Boxall said.