Canadian Occupational Safety

January/February 2021

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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Page 15 of 47

16 P E O P L E I N D U S T R Y P R O F I L E BRINGING HOPE AFTER TRAGEDY The Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support, more commonly known as Threads of Life, has been a shining light in the health and safety community for years. COS recently spoke with Shirley Hickman, executive director, on the organization's mission and challenges faced in 2020 Canada. There was a real gap in the health and safety landscape for an organization such as Threads of Life, which gives a voice to those affected by workplace tragedies. And more than a voice, the organization also provides a support system. Threads of Life Threads of Life consists of about 15 staff members, including Hickman. The organization has a board of directors, comprised of family members affected by workplace tragedies, as well as health and safety experts. More than 3,000 family members are currently receiving support services from the organization. "We help families who were victimized to become survivors," says Hickman. "Though they will remain a victim for the rest of their lives, we've chosen to be survivors and that is part of the whole prevention message." Threads of Life is two-fold, says Hickman. "Number one is that we support families, and number two is that we support the prevention message." Indeed, aside from offering support services, Threads of Life also advocates for health and safety in the workplace. Part of its vision is to help lead a culture shift in which we re-think our idea of ON an average working day in Canada, three workers are killed or die of an occupational disease. That's more than 1,000 workers a year, "and it's just the tip of the iceberg," says Shirley Hickman, executive director of Threads of Life. Those statistics don't take into account workers affected by injury or illness. Those workers are not just a number or a statistic. There are faces behind those numbers, people with lives and loved ones. In 1996, Hickman lost her son, Tim, as a result of a fatal explosion that occurred in the arena in which he was workplace deaths, injuries and illnesses as inevitable. Instead, the organization wants us to think of workplace tragedies as morally, socially and economically unacceptable. "We help those families that want to be involved in prevention so that they can share their stories and they can become part of the whole prevention message," says Hickman. Volunteer Family Guides Threads of Life uses a peer support model, currently mostly virtual, made up of what it calls Volunteer Family Guides. This is one of the major ways in which the organization offers its support. These are members of the organization who volunteer their time to listen and engage with victims of workplace tragedies. The volunteers also put members in touch with other community organizations. Threads of Life currently has 65 Volunteer Family Guides. These guides are trained by the organization to provide adequate support for members, and they draw on their own life stories to help connect with other members. Volunteers operate one on one, but they also share their stories with larger groups. "The human story opens the ears of the worker, the employer," says Hickman. Indeed, Hickman says there is a huge value to personal volunteers sharing their stories. "This summer, we trained a few volunteers to take their presentations virtually — and in schools, which included some in-person events. Our volunteers are ready for virtual and in-person sessions." "We've trained existing family members to be new guides," she says. "Sometimes, people want a specific match, and we can do that because we have support across Canada. It's amazing to work with people who know that families who are living with a life-altering injury need that kind of support." Threads of Life also sends out a quarterly newsletter, which includes personal stories from its members. The newsletter "reminds us of what we're THREADS OF LIFE KEY FACTS "I knew that there was no voice [for us] in the legal system — no voice for Tim, no voice for his family. That's the day I decided to do something positive." Shirley Hickman, Threads of Life working in London, Ont. "You're thrown into an unknown world and it's a fog," says Hickman. "Our family basically found itself in a world that we didn't understand. You're not just dealing with grief, the tragedy, the complexity of it, the sudden grief of a worker going to work and then not coming home. You're also thrown into the world of investigations, legal process, etc." What followed was not just grief but also frustration. It took years for Hickman and her family to get answers. Plus, the ensuing legal battle occurred between the City of London and the Ontario Ministry of Labour, but there seemed to be no space for loved ones. "I knew that there was no voice [for us] in the legal system — no voice for Tim, no voice for his family," says Hickman. "That's the day I decided to do something positive." Hickman says that, little by little, other organizations in London asked her to share the story of Tim and who he was. "I didn't know what had happened to cause the explosion, but I knew who Tim was so I shared that." she says. The Ministry of Labour asked Hickman to speak with inspectors and supervisors and on initiatives centred around decreasing dangers to young workers. "One by one, doors started to open," she says. "They all realized that families needed to be connected." Eventually, Threads of Life was launched in 2003 with help from the Ontario Ministry of Labour and the province's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). The organization offers its services throughout Canada. Before the organization was created, there wasn't really anything else like it in Founded in 2003 as The Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support Threads of Life has 15 staff members, including Shirley Hickman The organization provides support for more than 3,000 family members Threads of Life has 65 Volunteer Family Guides throughout Canada Since 2005, it has organized the Steps for Life walk

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