Twelve years after her son, Micheal, died from a construction site fall, Johanna LeRoux still has days when she breaks down sobbing. “Even now, I can’t believe this truly happened,” says the Barrie, Ontario Program Assistant at Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and mother of three. “Then it hits me — this is real. He’s not coming back. I’ll never see him again.”

On Jan. 19, 2006, 22-year-old Micheal Fisher fell from the top of a ladder against the roof of a three-storey house he was working on. After six days in a coma and several surgeries to attempt to reduce swelling in his brain, he went into multiple organ failure and died as a result of head trauma. Micheal had taken fall prevention training but was not wearing restraint equipment when he fell. His safety belt was found atop his toolbox.

About 350 Canadians die each year from on-the-job injuries. In Ontario, more than 200 critical injuries occur annually in the construction industry alone, 23 of which were traumatic fatalities in 2016. Alarmingly, the numbers are increasing. According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, there has also been a recent spike in workplace fatalities involving falls from heights despite new, mandatory training for working at heights introduced in 2015.

Finding solace in speaking about workplace safety

“Workplace safety and injury prevention are so important in everything you do,” LeRoux notes. “Always wear your personal safety equipment. It’s there for a reason.” On April 28th, she will honour the memory of her son during the National Day of Mourning, a commemoration of Canadians who have died, been injured, or suffered illness in the workplace.

She has a message for workers, especially younger ones. “Take your training. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And don’t be afraid to say no to unsafe work conditions. The law protects you.”

Today, LeRoux is a workplace safety speaker and volunteers as a family guide for Threads of Life, an organization that supports families after a workplace fatality, life-altering injury, or occupational disease. She has found solace in helping others through tragedy by sharing her story. “I’ve put most of my life back together,” LeRoux says, “but there’s still that piece that is broken forever.”