When London’s Shelby Sanford lost her much-beloved oldest brother Jim to a workplace fatality in 2005, her entire world turned upside down.
On the morning of March 29, 2005, Jim, a 30-year-old elevator constructor with a two-year-old son at home, was refurbishing an elevator in London’s Dominion Building when he suffered fatal head injuries after the elevator platform he was working was rammed into at the top of an elevator shaft at free-fall speed and Jim fell down the shaft.
An investigation by the Ministry of Labour determined that Jim’s death was a needless and entirely preventable, the result of lack of supervision and miscalculation.
After living through the emotional agony of losing her brother, Shelby, her parents and her siblings decided to put their energies towards helping others who had experienced workplace tragedy while also advocating for workplace safety in order to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. They began volunteering and sharing Jim’s story through Threads of Life, a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to helping families affected by workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths.
“After we lost my oldest brother Jim to a workplace fatality in 2005 we got involved with Threads of Life,” Sanford said. “My dad speaks, my mom is a volunteer family guide and I do a bit of both. I love how Steps for Life brings together the whole community and aims them towards that culture shift where workplace injuries, illness, disease and fatalities are non-existent.”
Sanford will be the official ambassador of Threads of Life’s annual Steps for Life 5k fundraising walk, which will take place in Sarnia’s Canatara Park on Saturday, May 4.
A pan-national event that takes place in communities across the country, the Steps for Life walk is both an opportunity for people to raise money for programs that assist those affected by workplace accidents as well as a forum to honour those affected by workplace tragedy.
Clad in yellow shirts, participants to Steps for Life can collect pledges or simply pay the registration fee ($15 for adults, free for children 13 and under), listen to speakers share their own experiences and then walk five kilometers at a leisurely pace. Afterwards, attendees get the chance to enjoy refreshments with the possibility of winning door prizes and bid on silent auction items.
The fundraising walks, which have been going on nationally since 2003 and in Sarnia for ten years, have been an effective in helping change the culture surrounding workplace safety, Sanford said.
“Since 2005, over the past 14 years, I’ve seen a big shift in training for new workers in labour-intensive jobs,” she said. “In my experience I’ve seen more of an emphasis on strict workplace safety training, more strict certification before the interview process and a tighter grip on health and safety, and I like that.”
“I think that by creating a sea of yellow, you see just how many people are affected,” Sanford continued. “With that in mind, in looking around and seeing all those people, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg of people who have been affected by workplace tragedy.”
Businesses and residents of Sarnia have been incredibly generous in supporting Steps for Life over the past decade, said event chairperson Mark Roehler, likely because the issue of workplace safety is something that hits home for them.
“Sarnia’s been really, really good,” he said. “Two of the (walk’s) national sponsors are from Sarnia – Nova Chemicals and Terrapaure Environmental – because they see the value in this to the community. And we’ve been fortunate that we’ve had a bunch of businesses – big and small – that have helped sponsor us over the years. By them giving us funds it makes it a little bit easier for us to raise money.”
Roehler said the goal this year is to have 125 people attend the walk and raise $25,000.
“This is the 10th year that I’ve been involved in the walk and over the past nine years locally we’ve raised $124,368,” he said. “It’s amazing. The last three years have been our best years – in 2016, we raised just over $20,000, in 2017 we were just shy of $22,000 and in 2018 we dropped a bit and went down to $18,955.”
All the money raised at the walk goes towards programs that help people affected by workplace tragedy, people who live right here in the community, Roehler said.
“A lot of it goes into peer support and family support,” he said. “One of the things that Shelby is going to be working on as well as one of our board leaders and a past spokesperson Carolyn Sim, they’re working to put out a peer support training program, starting a Sarnia-specific pilot program for that in the future, where people can get support, receive counselling and that sort of thing.
“All sorts of people can be impacted by accidents – kids, spouses, it could be the individual themselves, they could have been traumatized by an accident,” Roehler continued. “What the money will go towards are programs that will help these people deal with that trauma, provide counselling, training, accommodations, all that sort of stuff.”
As for being named ambassador for the walk, Sanford said she is happy to get the opportunity to once again share her brother’s story and honour his legacy by emphasizing the importance of workplace safety.
“I think it’s a good way to honour my brother’s life and share his story,” she said. “I think it puts a face to a story that can hopefully prevent similar ones in the future.”
The walk begins at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday May 4 at Canatara Park’s Seaway Kiwanis Pavilion. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m.
To register or donate online, visit http://events.threadsoflife.ca/StepsforLife-Sarnia. For more information or to volunteer, contact Mark Roehler at email@example.com.