Sept. 18, 2006, is a day Mark Johnson will never forget.
It was the day an attempt to save two minutes of time at work led to the loss of use of his left arm.
Johnson was one of many workers across the province recognized during Day of Mourning ceremonies on Thursday. The annual Day of Mourning commemorates workers who have been killed or injured as a result of their jobs.
“It was my first day back on night shift after doing two weeks of day shifts,” said Johnson, who was working at a sawmill in the Lower Mainland at the time.
“I didn’t have my mind on the job. I didn’t have my mind on safety,” he said during a
ceremony at Ben Lee Park.
Despite proper training, Johnson chose to clean scraps of wood from a conveyor belt under the wood chipper without turning off the machine first.
“I scooted underneath the machine, grabbed my shovel and I started scooping up a pile of wood chips,” he said. “I didn’t do too bad of a job, but some of the chips got stuck in between the belts. Without even thinking, I stuck my left hand between the two conveyor belts to start scooping out the wood chips.”
In an instant, Johnson’s left arm was pulled into the conveyor belt. He screamed for help, but nobody heard him.
“My boss’s voice kept going through my head, ‘Hey Mark, we like you, it’s nice we don’t have to check on you like some of the other employees, because you’re a great worker,’” said Johnson. “I’d like to see a day where there’s no such thing as working alone.”
After about 20 minutes, the machine shut off, but Johnson was still stuck.
A coworker did not discover him for another 10 minutes, and he was then taken to hospital.
“I made a personal choice to skip out on safety, and it was a very bad choice,” said Johnson.
Johnson now works with WorkSafeBC, speaking at high schools and workplaces about workplace safety.
“Safety is the most important thing on any job, and if you don’t think that, then you need to get your head checked,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to speak up. You have the right to refuse unsafe work, and my definition of unsafe work is whatever you think is unsafe. What counts most on the job is staying in one piece and getting home in one piece.”
In 2015, there were 122 work-related deaths in B.C. — 72 caused by occupational disease resulting from exposure to asbestos decades ago, and 50 that resulted from traumatic injuries.
There were two work-related deaths from traumatic injury in the Central Okanagan regional district last year.
“We can’t bring back those that have died, but we can commit to making workplaces safer,” said Carmen Belanger, vice-president of the North Okanagan Labour Council.
Canadian unions are calling for a national ban on asbestos, she said.
Since asbestos takes years to manifest into disease, the effects of previous exposure can now be seen on workers and retirees, said Mark Stokes, manager of client services with WorkSafeBC in Kelowna.
“Unfortunately, this means that the number of deaths from occupational disease could remain high for some years to come,” he said.
“While work-related deaths have been on the decline in our province and we continue to see a provincial injury rate at a historic low, we still have a lot of work to do.”