Spencer Beach's powerful story, told at a safety conference in Lethbridge on Tuesday, highlights the importance of workplace safety.
The Human Resources and Skills Development Canada website says there are close to 1,000 deaths from work-related injuries or diseases every year. Beach nearly became part of those statistics in 2003 while working as a flooring installer.
As indicated in the story in Wednesday's Herald, Beach was using a toxic substance he described as a "glorified paint thinner" to remove linoleum when the highly flammable chemical caught fire and engulfed him in flames. He suffered third- and fourth-degree burns to 90 per cent of his body and doctors only gave him a five per cent of survival. But survive he did, after a six-week induced coma, several months of rehabilitation and dozens of surgeries.
Today Beach is an Edmonton construction safety officer, author and motivational speaker who works to improve workplace safety and help others avoid mistakes like the ones he made - "Mistakes that I'll have to live with for the rest of my life because they're written on my face," he said.
Workplace safety doesn't only require the efforts of workers, but employers and policy makers, too. It's up to employers to ensure workplace facilities are safe, and that proper guidelines are in place to ensure safe practices. Policy makers, both within the industry and in government, have to do their part by creating and enforcing regulations for employers to follow in order to keep workers safe.
The good news is workplace safety seems to be improving in Alberta. A fall 2011 report from Work Safe Alberta indicated that the workplace fatality rate had fallen from 98 fatalities per million person-years worked in 2001 to 78 fatalities per million person-years in 2010.
That's encouraging, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. Beach's message is timely as students will soon be looking for summertime employment. Young workers can bring energy and enthusiasm to their jobs but they're generally lacking experience. It's up to employers to make sure young workers are properly trained and have proper supervision so they can stay safe in the workplace or on the job site.
And, of course, it's up to workers themselves to make sure safety procedures are followed, and to avoid taking shortcuts. Failing to do so could carry a high price, as Spencer Beach knows all too well.
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