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Surviving the loss

Cheryl Browne

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

This is one club that doesn't want any new members.

The Threads of Life national charity only exists to support families of loved ones who've been killed at the workplace.

When Shirley Hickman lost her son Tim to a work-related accident in 1996, there were no support groups in place to help her family deal with the loss.

"I was a stranger in a foreign land," said Hickman. "We didn't know anything about WSIB, we didn't know how to contact the ministry of labour, and we didn't know what an inquest was."

Through their pain, the Hickmans slowly began pulling the information together and in doing so, came to believe they should share their information with others.

They now have 1,100 families on their member list who have lost fathers, husbands and children. They also offer advice to those with occupational diseases, people who've lost limbs or eyes on the job and those who have suffered brain injuries at their workplace.

"We offer peer support and we share our experiences," said Hickman. "And now the government agencies provide us with information to help families. It's all about awareness and prevention."

The Canadian Centre for Workplace Health and Safety states that there were 939 workplace deaths in 2009, down from 1,036 deaths the previous year.

That's more than two deaths every single day of the year.

In the 17 years between 1993 and 2009, more than 15,000 people across Canada lost their lives due to work-related causes.

Barrie mother Johanna Fisher joined the group when her son Micheal slipped off a ladder and died in 2006.

Fisher was 22 when he fell three stories off the ladder at his roofing job.

"He wasn't wearing his harness," Fisher explained. "At the coroner's inquest, they figure he came down to fix his nail gun and then scrambled back up to test it. He was either planning on coming right down again, or he just forgot to put his harness on. Nobody actually saw it happen."

Fisher said she was devastated when it happened, but has come to terms with her grieving by helping others learn about workplace safety.

"I feel that if I tell my story and help change the way a young person thinks it might help. I want to change the way people think about workplace safety," she said.

Fisher's is one of 21 stories in the new Forget Me Not book published by Threads of Life that discusses work place safety, industry statistics and inquest details.

In 1991, the federal government named April 28, the National Day of Mourning to remember those who've died at work, and it's now remembered in more than 80 countries around the world.

In addition to the release of the new Forget Me Not book, the annual Steps of Life walk will take place on April 30 at Centennial Beach. For more information, visit

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