Special to Ontario Construction Report
Dean Maguire was always thinking of safety. He was reluctant to let his 12-year-old daughter sit in the front seat of the car because the back seat was safer. When his older daughter trained to be a heavy equipment operator, he asked about her boots, hard hat and safety glasses. At work for a sheet metal installation company, he was on the safety committee.
That made it even more of a shock when the phone call came that Dean had been killed at work.
“Try as I might, I could not reconcile this story with the Dean that I had known for so long,” says Dean’s wife Heather. “How could such a safety-conscious person die like this?”
For families like Heather’s who’ve experienced a work-related tragedy, National Day of Mourning on April 28 is a poignant reminder of all they’ve lost, but also an opportunity to reinforce the importance of health and safety.
Dean had worked in sheet metal for 30 years and was on a project at Billy Bishop airport in Toronto. He had been working at a higher level and came down to a lower walkway to continue. Without a proper place to secure his self-retracting lifeline, Dean let his line out about six metres from the anchor point and wrapped it around an upright column. As he moved about the roof, the block of his SRL somehow went over the side of the building, and because it wasn’t anchored properly to a horizontal anchor, it pulled him off the roof. He died at the scene.
The company Dean worked for was later charged and found guilty of failing to ensure measures and procedures of the Occupational Health and Safety Act were carried out, by failing to ensure that the self-retracting lifeline had been attached to a fixed support, and that the length of the extended lifeline over an open area was at a safe configuration of the fall protection equipment. In other words, as Heather says, Dean didn’t have the proper safety equipment to carry out his job safely. Heather and her daughters read victim impact statement at the trial, to help the court understand the devastating impact his death has had on their lives.
Dean and Heather were separated, so as she worked to help their two daughters through the tragedy, her own grief was complicated by guilt and uncertainty. Through the WSIB, she found Threads of Life – the Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support. Threads of Life provides information and connection for families and individuals living in the aftermath of a work-related fatality, life-altering injury, or an occupational disease. Heather attended a forum for families affected by tragedy, and found compassion and understanding – she knew she was not alone.
Dean has a grandson now, whom he will never know, and who “who loves excavators and tractors and pretty much anything with wheels,” Heather says. She and the girls, along with Dean’s extended family and friends, have all struggled with grief in their own ways.
Dean’s death changed Heather’s life forever. But through Threads of Life she has found healing and hope. She joined the Threads of Life volunteer speaker’s program and this year will be a spokesperson for her local Steps for Life-Walking for Families of Workplace Tragedy event. Her goal is to prevent work-related fatalities and injuries in the future.
For their family, Day of Mourning is a chance to join with others across the country in honouring those killed or injured at work, and in emphasizing the importance of preventing such tragedies.
“There are many things you plan for when you have two daughters,” Heather says now. “You plan for talks about love and puberty and schools and sports and friends – but this? This was something no mother can prepare for. Our hope, through it all, is that nobody should ever die this way, and no family should ever have to go through what my family has endured. This was entirely preventable.”