Carl Howells shares his Day of Mourning story
The Day of Mourning is an important day to many – especially our own staff, some of whom began a career in health and safety because they were affected by a workplace incident or death
Sitting in his hospital bed speaking to a WorkSafeBC prevention officer after suffering a tragic workplace incident, Carl Howells never would have thought the man standing in front of him would one day become his co-worker. Eleven years later, Carl not only has a new career but a new outlook on life and safety.
In 2011, Carl was nearing the end of his shift as a carpenter when his employer called with one last job request: to prepare a slab of steel for insulation for a job that needed to be done early the next morning. Carl and the skid steer operator groaned — they were ready to go home. But the job had to get done. Carl walked behind the bobcat when his eyes looked away for a split second. In that split second, the track machine sucked him under the skid steer, crushing his legs. Carl spent 17 days in hospital, where he was fitted with metal rods and fuses in his leg and foot, then spent the next six months confined to a wheelchair.
"My experience shows that whether you're just starting your day or are at the end of your shift, it only takes a few seconds for something to change your life forever," says Carl. As a husband and the father of two kids — one of whom was just a baby at the time — Carl reflects on how challenging his workplace injury was not only for him but his entire family.
"It was tough for them. I couldn't walk, I couldn't work, and I felt like I had lost my entire identity," he says. "Thankfully, I received so much support from both WorkSafeBC and my family throughout my recovery and my return to work. They were 100 percent behind me every step of the way."
A newfound purpose
After returning to his previous employer, Carl became a site superintendent. His personal experience with workplace injury allowed him to encourage his fellow workers to take workplace safety more seriously. In 2018, Carl's newfound passion for workplace safety inspired him to apply for a job with WorkSafeBC's Port Moody's construction prevention team. He spent three years honing his skills and learning from his mentor and colleagues in Port Moody before a lateral transfer brought him to the Kelowna office, where he now works alongside the same prevention officer he met in that hospital room 11 years ago.
"I've really come full circle," he says, sharing that he finds it easy to communicate to workers about the seriousness of workplace safety because of his personal story. "It garners respect from them; they know that I'm not just telling them it's not safe, I can speak from personal experience," says Carl, who now works as a prevention officer in health care.
More than just a number
When reflecting on what the Day of Mourning means to him, Carl says it's a reminder of why we're here and the important role we play to those affected by workplace injury, death, or disease.
"I never forgot the name of the officer who visited me in hospital. He came to see me, dealt with my employer, and treated me as though I was more than just a number — I was a person," he says.
"Our promise at WorkSafeBC is that we make a difference and I feel that's what I'm doing when I'm out there through consultation, enforcement, and interacting with employers," he says. "It feels good knowing that I'm trying to help ensure that what happened to me never happens to anyone else."
Take a moment on April 28 to remember
Join us in a moment of silence on April 28 to remember the 181 B.C. workers who died last year from a workplace injury or disease.
Visit dayofmourning.bc.ca for a listing of ceremonies around the province, and watch a livestream of the Day of Mourning ceremony from Jack Poole Plaza in Vancouver at 10:30 a.m. to recognize the day, and those we lost.