It can happen in an instant, when another, seemingly typical day on the job becomes a traumatic, potentially life-threatening experience. Devon Smith learned this first-hand last November, while she was helping her dad replace fence posts on her family’s cattle farm.
“Dad and I hooked up the augers at the back of the tractor and went to work. Fixing fences is a routine job when you have cattle. We had about six or seven posts in the ground when I started moving around a little too close to the tractor. I don’t remember any of what happened next,” said Smith, a guest speaker at Salmon Arm’s Day of Mourning ceremony held Tuesday, April 28 at Marine Park.
Smith, 21, said her dad quickly shut down the augers and cut her free. She would spend the next six-and-a-half weeks in hospital, receiving various surgeries due to her injuries.
Since 2009, 145 injuries and 11 fatalities have occurred on B.C. farms and ranches. Workplace fatalities in the province totalled 173 in the province last year alone. The national Day of Mourning, held annually on April 28, is to recognize and honour those who have lost their lives in the workplace to accidents or occupational disease, and to raise awareness, of the provision of safe workplaces.
From her experience, Smith says safety is not something that can be taken for granted.
“The biggest thing that I’ve learned from this is always, always be aware of what you’re doing,” said Smith. “Even when it’s something you have done a million times over again, it doesn’t change the chance for potential risk. If anything, it makes it a bigger risk because you’re being complacent. You’re not thinking about taking all the safety measures, and you need to, every single time, no matter what.”
The importance of worker mental health was also stressed, by both CUPE local 1908 president Kevin Hansen and Salmon Arm Fire Chief Brad Shirley. They emphasized how, without proper diagnosis and support, mental-health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder can have a significant impact on the workplace and the economy. More important, this can result in the loss of loved ones and friends.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder is one more work-related hazard that firefighters, paramedics, police officers and other workers are faced with today,” said Shirley, referring to two Surrey firefighters who took their own lives due to PTSD. Hansen also related a story of personal loss – a friend and local first responder who suffered from PTSD.
“We need to focus on giving understanding for individuals suffering from all mental health problems, and support them,” said Hansen. “Any death in the workplace or work-related is not acceptable and most workplace injuries are preventable.”