Workplace fatality leads mother to work for safety

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    By Susan Haldane

    Special to Ontario Construction Report

    Johanna LeRoux was at work, just returning from her lunch break, when the phone call came – the call every parent dreads, and the call that would change her life forever. Johanna’s son Michael, 22, had fallen from a roof and was being rushed to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital with severe head injuries.

    The police officer “asked if I had someone who could drive me to Sunnybrook, because he didn’t think it was a good idea for me to drive there myself,” Johanna says. “I told him I would find a way to get there and  I hung up the phone to go to the ladies room and throw up . . . I had never been so afraid in my life.”

    Michael was a construction labourer who had been working in the roofing industry for a year and a half and as a framer for two years before that.

    After six days sitting by Michael’s side in the intensive care unit, Johanna and her family had to decide whether to continue the many medical interventions that were keeping his body functioning. “We were told that Michael was going into multiple organ failure,” she says. “I had to let him go. There is no worse nightmare than having to give permission to turn off the life support that is keeping your child alive.”

    Johanna’s nightmare continued through the days, weeks and months that followed Michael’s death, as she coped with overwhelming grief. But as she says, over the seven years since, she has gradually learned to make peace with her “new normal.”

    Every year in Canada, roughly a thousand workers die because of workplace incidents – and each of those workers leaves behind family, friends and co-workers devastated by their loss. Johanna wanted to be able to support others going through what she experienced, and also to be able to prevent future fatalities and injuries. Today she is a member and volunteer with Threads of Life. She serves as a volunteer family guide, offering one-on-one peer support for other families affected by workplace tragedy. She also speaks publicly, telling Michael’s story with a goal of ensuring that others don’t have to live through the same horror.

    Threads of Life is a Canadian charity, dedicated to helping people who have been affected by a workplace fatality, life-altering injury, or an occupational disease. The organization offers one-on-one support through volunteers like Johanna, annual forums where family members can gather to share their stories and learn coping skills, and other resources for family members. Threads of Life also reaches out to try to change the world of work so that injuries and fatalities are no longer considered just the “cost of doing business.”

    “I’m learning to allow some contentment and some happiness back into my life,” Johanna says. “And I’m learning to heal through helping others and working to bring about the changes that we hope will someday make workplace injuries and fatalities non-existent.”

    To learn more about Threads of Life, visit the association’s web site at www.threadsoflife.ca, or call toll-free to 1-888-567-9490.

    Susan Haladine is program manager, marketing and communications, at Threads of Life.

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