Day of Mourning honours fallen workers

The annual event, held at locations across Canada, took place in Abbotsford on Friday morning.

Mike Helmer

Mike Helmer

Michael Lovett was just 18, fresh out of high school, when he was hired to work in a lumber mill.

Within minutes of starting his job, he was pulling lumber off the green chain. Three days later, he was assigned to do cleanup on the graveyard shift.

One of his jobs was clearing clogged bark from a conveyor. He would climb on the machine through a hand railing – seven feet up – and then step on the piles of bark while the conveyor was running.

On Nov. 9, 1999, that task went horribly wrong. He had just finished cleaning the conveyor and turned around to jump off, when the conveyor hooked his boot, causing him to slip.

The tail-end roller caught his foot, and his leg was dragged and crushed into the equipment.

It would be 20 minutes before someone discovered that Lovett was trapped, and another 40 minutes before rescue workers arrived and freed him.

Lovett (in photo at left) spent a month in hospital, during which time he had nine surgeries – five of them in one week – and 12 blood transfusions to fight the infection he had sustained.

“So close I was to death and now I have a leg I put on every day, and every ache or pain, strain or stare, brings me back to that time in my life … I was one of the lucky ones,” Lovett said.

He shared his story during a Day of Mourning event held at the civic plaza in Abbotsford on Friday morning. The event, held each year across the country, commemorates workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness as a result of their job.

Mark Benjamin, health and safety rep with CUPE local 774, said 181 workers died on the job in B.C. last year.

“That is more than our death toll of our soldiers in Afganistan in 10 years,” he said.

Among those fatalities were four workers under the age of 25 and four from the Fraser Valley.

Also speaking at the event were Abbotsford deputy mayor Bill MacGregor, David Murray from the Fraser Valley Labour Council and Mark DeShane of WorkSafeBC.

They stressed the importance of fighting to keep workplaces safe and ensuring that those who lost their lives on the job did not do so in vain.

Several people then laid roses at the foot of a monument remembering workers who have died serving the community.