April 26, 2010 § 12 Comments

On April 28th, we will observe a National Day of Mourning as established by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

The purpose of the day is in “commemorating workers whose lives have been lost or injured in the workplace.”  The CCOHS estimates that from 1993-1998, 14,190 people lost their lives due to work related causes.  In my books, those 14,190 deaths that could have been prevented.

On August 10, 2005, a police officer came to my door.  I had just come home from a 4 week trek through Italy and Southern France two weeks earlier to celebrate the end of my degree from the University of Alberta.  I had begun my job search as soon as I was back in the country and had an interview scheduled that day in Edmonton with Enterprise Rent-a-Car.  I never made the interview.

I was just about to step in the shower when the doorbell rang.  I grabbed my housecoat and headed upstairs.  On my doorstep was an RCMP officer.  The next couple of minutes happened as if they were in slow motion.  Every word, every detail is etched in my memory.

“Do you know a Wayne Jacob Peters that was born October 21, 1978?” the RCMP officer asked me.

I looked at him a bit suspiciously as I replied “Yes, I do.  He’s my brother.”

The RCMP officer looked at me and said “I’m sorry, your brother has been in an accident.”

That sentence hung in the air for a moment before settling on my ears.  A million thoughts and questions raced through my head in the ensuing seconds about what could have happened before I answered “Oh my God!  Is he okay?”

I expected to hear that he had been in a bad accident and that we should get to the hospital right away.  Something like “Your brother was hit by a drunk driver and is in critical condition”  was along the lines of what I was preparing myself to hear.

But life doesn’t ever bring us the news we expect.  The RCMP officer looked right into my questioning eyes.  I could see the answer then before he even said the words, but even a split second of warning wasn’t any preparation for what I heard next.

“No he isn’t.  I’m sorry, your brother didn’t make it.”

I can hear those words as though the officer were repeating them in front of me now, they’re still that clear.   I looked at the officer in disbelief and all I could muster was “Are you kidding me?”  Of course, the answer was no.  Wayne Jacob Peters of Millet, Alberta, born October 21, 1978, was found dead the previous evening 90 km north of Slave Lake around 11 pm.

The RCMP officer proceeded to ask if there was anyone he could call for me.  My mom was in BC, but I got a hold of my dad.  He happened to be in Millet.  I now stood on the other side of the news.  Having to repeat the devastating information I had received only minutes earlier to my father was worse than hearing it myself.  As soon as he drove up, he rushed out of his truck and hugged me so hard.  At 23, that’s a lot of emotion to take in in only a few minutes.

After that news and that hug, a part of me shut down for a very long time.  It’s been only in the last month or so that I’ve began to understand the shock and trauma my system was subjected to, and that six years later, I’m finally able to start processing it.

The Workers’ Compensation Board proceeded with an investigation.  Wayne was a chemical engineer working in cathodic protection.  He was checking on a pipeline in Northern Alberta.  On August 9, 2005, he was to meet his coworker back at the motel they were staying at by 7 pm.  When he didn’t show up and wouldn’t answer his cell phone, his coworker knew there was something out of the ordinary.  At 11 pm, Wayne was found dead by the rectifier he had been checking earlier.  He had been electrocuted.

After reading the report from the Worker’s Compensation Board, no one party was at fault.  There had been several factors at play with regards to the voltage going through the rectifier, and the fact that Wayne was performing tasks only intended to be performed by a certified electrician, which he most certainly was not.  Mostly what I got out of reading the report was that his death, this work site “accident” could have been prevented.

Wayne was 25.  He had a bright future as a chemical engineer.  And now he’s one of 14,190 Canadians that died for no particular reason.

I’ve struggled for years with the suddenness of his death.  I tried to tell myself that I was fine, people all over the world go through this too.  I felt like I didn’t have the right to be angry with the rest of the world, after all, there were still people much worse off than I.  But in doing so, I didn’t allow myself to find a way to come to terms with what had happened.  When I heard an ad on the radio for The National Day of Mourning on April 28th, I felt like now I could give it a reason, even if it’s just to put my own mind at ease.  He died so someone else wouldn’t have to.

I often forget just how little it takes to prevent an accident.  Turning off your phone while driving, inspecting your equipment to make sure it’s safe, not performing a task you’re not specifically trained to do even though you may have done it before.  And then something comes up to remind me of Wayne.  And paying attention resurfaces as a priority in every task I perform.

My brother died so you and I wouldn’t have to, at least not from something we could have prevented. So, on April 28th, I’ll be joining people from over 80 other countries around the world not only to remember the dead, but to help protect the living.  I hope you’ll join us too.

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§ 12 Responses to Forget-Them-Not

  • Will be there in spirit, thank you (as always) for sharing with us. Much love, S.

  • Rea says:

    Wendy, thank you for sharing. You have given his sacrifice a voice.

  • Erin says:

    Wendy *hugs* I had no idea. Thank you for sharing your brother with us. I am sorry your family have had to go through this. However, I am thankful you are sharing this story with us and the world. It is a very important reminder for us all.

  • Wendy Peters says:

    Thanks everyone. I’ll share another piece of him, his sense of humour was second to none!

    After he graduated from high school, Wayne got a job with a company called Orica out of Denver. They were shipping all of his furniture and his truck down for him, but in the mean time, he was without most of it for about 3 weeks. His truck was this old little two seater truck that he barely fit in. He called it Carlos.

    Wayne was a HUGE Edmonton Oilers fan. In that same time frame he decided to head over to the box office to see if he could score himself some Oilers/Avalanche tickets. In the parking lot next to the box office, there was a used car show going on. He figured it wouldn’t hurt to go have a look around. While he was taking a look at some of the vehicles on display, a black car salesman walks upto him and starts asking him some questions. He then asks Wayne what his credit history is like. Wayne replies “Well, I just moved here from Canada, so I don’t really have anything credit history in the US.” The salesman brushed it off and said that was no problem. There were ways around that.

    They stepped over to the salesman’s table and the salesman started filling out some forms. He asked my brother for some ID, Wayne pulled out the Colorado driver’s license that he had just gotten. The salesman is looking from the card to my brother and back to the card. Then he looks up and says “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re much better looking than you are in this picture.” He paused for a moment and said “Not that I’m gay or anything.”

    Wayne looked the car salesman directly in the eye for a second and responded “That’s too bad. I’ve never been with a black man.”

    Hehe, he told us that one when he was up for Thanksgiving that year. It’s my favourite one! I keep telling it and it just keeps getting funnier.

  • alpalmer says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, I had no idea. And thank you for sharing. Your brother had a heck of a sense of humour, if that story is any indication 🙂

  • Mike says:

    I remember the night, not sure how…

    He got ran over outside of the bar. He fell out of the back of a moving truck & under the tire. The big burly bastard walked it off after his legs were run over.

    It’s too bad, he was a one of a kind, but there are some pretty stringent procedures now for cathodic protection guys. It also makes you realize how important a working alone policy is.

    • Wendy Peters says:

      I remember him showing my mom and I the tire tread marks on the back of his calf. I couldn’t believe the story when he told us what had happened! No bones broken.. nothing… just a limp and a tire treaded bruise.

      Thanks Mike.

  • John Tyler says:

    Wendy, sounds like your brother was really a great guy! Too bad that had to happen to him, and I think it’s worse when you know that it could have been prevented.

    Not the best way to bring awareness to “work place accidents” – what a price to pay. In the railways it is said that our rules we use are written in blood – after an incident and investigation, they either tighten the existing rules or create new ones to try and prevent the same thing happening again. The unfortunate thing that can happen in any company, is that when safety precautions come ahead of productivity, they can be seen as over-cautious and a potential waste of time, unless there already has been a serious accident. Not the best way to think about safety!!

    One thing I really like about my job in the railway is that safety does come first. I am responsible for knowing the rules and using them properly to make sure the train crews and foremen get to go home every night to their families. I have to be situationally aware at all times and make the right decisions- even overriding management if I have to. In our rules we have a General Notice:

    “Safety and a willingness to obey the rules is of the first importance in the performance of duty. If in doubt, the safe course must be taken.”

    And you’re right Wendy, it doesn’t take much to apply this to our personal lives outside of work. If you are operating any type of machine or equipment, just take the time to eliminate distractions, stay alert, and if you have a question or sense some doubt, don’t assume anything- take the time to stop and answer your question, resolve your doubt, and you’ve probably just saved a life, or even your own!

  • sterlinghope says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss Wendy, I really can’t imagine how hard it must be for you. Hopefully the happy memories of your brother sustain you. Sincerely, Amber Cleveland

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