Community needs to advocate for youth safety at work, say speakers at Day of Mourning event

"I had a gut feeling it wasn't safe, but given my age and I had no one to lead me, I plugged along," he said.

A crowd of several dozen gathered in Ben Lee Park Tuesday for the annual day of mourning

Michael Lovett was dealt a brutal blow many wouldn’t survive more than 15 years ago,  and with every  “ache, pain, strain or stare,” he’s dragged back in time.

“It was 1999. I was young—life was good,” he told a crowd gathered at Ben Lee Park for the annual Day of Mourning ceremony, about the time before a workplace accident shattered his world.

“I had just graduated from high school and had applied at a bunch of different companies, when I heard there was work at the mill. It was exciting and new for me.”

He was hired almost immediately after applying, and took to his new work of pulling lumber off the green chain with enthusiasm.

Within three days, however, he was assigned a new job at the Mission-area mill.

“I was told to clean the debarking conveyor.”

Bark would clog the machine, so employees would climb up seven feet, hold onto the hand rail and use a broom to loosen the bark—while the conveyor was still rolling.

“I had a gut feeling it wasn’t safe, but given my age and I had no one to lead me, I plugged along,” he said.

It went along fine until Nov. 9, 1999, when he tried to jump from the conveyor after loosening a blockage, and his boot got caught. The machine started to suck him in, and Lovett held on to something as his leg was mashed by the powerful machine.

“I looked up to the stormy sky and was begging God for one more chance,” he said.

That’s when the machine stopped, due to what he believes was his steel toed boot breaking a link in the drive chain.

“I lay on the convey belt crying and screaming,” he said.

Within an hour help arrived and Lovett was forced to undergo countless surgeries. He survived, but he lost a leg.

“What hurt most, however, was how easily my accident could have been prevented,” he said, pointing out that  young people need to speak out about their safety.

“Sometimes the smallest misstep can have fatal consequences.”

Echoing Lovett’s sentiment about young people speaking up about protecting their safety was Rosemarie Lachnit.

Her son Nicholas was working on a Surrey condo in 2005, when life was breathed into her worst nightmare.

He fell three storeys from an unguarded, open balcony and landed head first on a pipe sticking out of the ground.

Although he didn’t die on impact,  he didn’t survive long.

Once she made it to his side in the hospital, she looked at his battered form, held his hand and said, you can go. It’s all right. I’ll be OK.”

“His arm moved, and it felt like he was acknowledging what I told him,” she told the crowd.

In the months after his death, she was inconsolable. His death, she said, was “stupid, unnecessary” and reflective of consistent and poor safety policies at his workplace.

Something Nicholas’s employer only paid a $50,000 fine for, while his loved ones lost everything.

Today she calls for shared for community responsibility.

“Protect our sons and daughters,” she said. “We must end the need for a Day of Mourning. Employers, workers families—everyone must fight everyday to see that no more children are lost.”

The annual day of mourning commemorates workers who have been killed as a result of their jobs, said Mark Stokes of WorkSafeBC.

Last year 173 workerss in B.C. died as a result of something that happened at their workplace.

While many of those deaths were due to the tragic and awful episodes like the aforementioned, the vast majority had to do with occupational disease.

Aesbestos, which was commonly used in a number of industries from the ’50s to the ’90s, is the reason for 98 of these deaths and Stokes said he believes the number will only get higher as time wears on and those who were exposed start to manifest the damage they incurred.

Moving forward, however, he sees cause for optimism.

“By working to build a culture where health and safety is a priority… .we can eliminate the tragedy and loss we’re feeling today,” he said.

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