Safety advocate addresses conference

If you see something, say something.

The message couldn't be clearer for employees of any industry, working in any form of job site. Candace Carnahan wishes that had been clearer in her head when she was in her early 20s working at a New Brunswick paper mill. She might still have her leg.

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Carnahan is one of Canada's leading safety advocates, but she would trade her international career many times over if she could get back her lower appendage and, most importantly of all, spare her family the anguish of her nearly fatal incident.

Carnahan was in Prince George this week as a keynote speaker at the Wood Pellet Association of Canada's annual safety conference.

She told CEOs, managers, supervisors, safety personnel and regular employees that it was up to each of them to look out for one another and look out for yourself whenever you're at work.

When Carnahan first took the mill job as a summer employment opportunity, she was dissuaded from addressing safety shortfalls except to use her common sense and be careful. It was a place full of machinery, after all.

And she was careful. Nothing bad happened. Until it did.

Her entire life blew in painful directions in that one moment when a conveyer grabbed her pant-leg and pulled her into the unrelenting steel jaws of a gear system.

She refuses, now, to call that moment an accident. "I didn't have to step over that conveyer, when I could have gone around," she insists, taking personal responsibility for her actions. An accident is defined as something unforeseeable and out of your control.

"It was unintentional, but it was most definitely foreseeable and most definitely preventable," she said.

She threw no blame on the company by name, during her address, but she did point out that the fine issued to the company was $10,000.

"That's half the cost of my fake leg, and I have five of them," she said.

No cost can be calculated for the mental trauma the incident inflicted on her family. The physical pain to her body was enormous - she was jammed in the gears for half an hour before anyone could get her extricated - but a family friend later told her about the hospital. The friend was there by coincidence when Carnahan was admitted, and told her about the scream that echoed through the admitting area.

"It wasn't me. I was already up in surgery. It was my father, when they told him what had happened to me," Carnahan said.

Everyone has loved ones companies must consider when they contract people to work for them, not to mention the employees' own right to personal safety.

"You think it's okay that some people are going to get hurt at work?," she asked. "How many is too many? One? Put up your hand, who wants to be the one? Who is okay with the one being your brother or your daughter? I can tell you about that, because I have been the one."

This part of Carnahan's message was a strong caution, but it was not a shaming exercise. On the contrary, she said, Canada as a nation "is changing as a culture, but until we get to zero we still have more to do."

For three Canadians today, the message is not yet strong enough.

That is how many people, on average, die while on the job in this country.

The Wood Pellet Association of Canada was a leader in going from unacceptable workplace safety to being one of the most aggressive at taking care of their workers, she said.

The reason for the success was the buy-in of the manger/supervisor side of the business and also the employee side. It is perhaps surprising, but getting the workers themselves to take an active role in their own working conditions does not always occur.

So, she said, if you see something, say something.

Carnahan will be back in the Prince George area in September, with availability in her schedule.

Any company, school, union, agency or other group that would like to have her come for a site-visit, deliver her personal story, or conduct a full workplace safety workshop can book her at www.candacecarnahan.com.

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