Good intentions — heartbreaking results

By David Brown
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/25/2002

The tragic issue of deaths in the workplace was thrust onto the front pages of newspapers and dinnertime news broadcasts across the country earlier this month after two young Ontario students were killed during the annual Take Our Kids to Work Day, a program designed to encourage kids to stay in school and prepare them for the working world.

On the same day in Edmonton, a man who brought his grandchild to work as part of the same program was one of two men killed at a construction site, after being crushed by falling sewer pipes. The man was just days away from retirement.

Despite efforts to reduce the numbers of workplace fatalities, an average of three people die on the job every day in Canada. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are disproportionately susceptible to workplace deaths and injuries.

While not employees at the John Deere Welland Works, a farm-equipment manufacturing plant in Welland, Ont., the 14-year old students were driving a plant utility vehicle when it crashed into a parked truck trailer. The incident is under investigation by the provincial labour ministry and the Coroner’s office. The accident illustrates the unique dangers that exist for young people in the workplace.

Across Canada, almost 17 per cent of all workplace accidents involve young workers. At a recent conference called to examine the issue of youth health and safety in the workplace, Roberta Ellis, vice-president of the prevention division of the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia, told attendees that young workers have a sense of invincibility, and a tendency to take on high risks without proper instruction. They also tend to view safety as someone else’s problem.

And according to the Alberta-based Job Safety Skills Society, young workers between the ages of 15 and 25 comprise 20 per cent of the workforce but suffer 33 per cent of all fatalities.

Immediately after the Welland deaths, grief counsellors were called in to help employees cope with the tragic event.

While preparing for such a tragedy may seem impossible, experts on crisis in the workplace say companies need to consider the possibility of worst-case scenarios and put an effective crisis management plan in place.

In his book

The Crisis Counsellor

, Jeffrey R. Caponigro identifies three things to do before a crisis hits:

•appoint a chief crisis officer;

•limit the spokepeople and clearly identify their roles; and

•consider, and plan for, worst-case scenarios.

According to certified trauma specialist Donna Tona, it is important for companies to remember that immediately after an incident, grief counselling is sometimes not effective since employees can be in shock.

For a more detailed look at how to assist employees after a traumatic incident see the Sept. 25 issue of

Canadian HR Reporter

, page 22. And the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, has a Web site with information on young people at work and a toll-free help line 1-800-263-8466.

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