First safety was professional. Then it was personal

In the 1980s, safety was professional for Maureen Shaw. And then in the 1990s, it became deeply personal.

Shaw had worked for years in occupational health and safety, including in the oil and gas industry.

But she never imagined those risks would strike so close to home. That changed on November 19, 1993, with a single phone call. Shaw was in a downtown Calgary office—working on an oil and gas safety study—when she learned her son Marc, 23, had been seriously injured in a seismic blast in a remote area outside Fort Nelson, BC.

Maureen Shaw

Maureen Shaw

“It was stunning for me because I was interviewing people about what was happening (in energy exploration and production) in northeastern BC. and northern Alberta,” Shaw says. In the early 1990s, the public and Alberta provincial government often criticized the industry’s safety performance. Maureen realized that for all her experience and knowledge in health and safety, if “this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.”

She and her husband immediately flew to Edmonton as Marc was airlifted to Edmonton; he was lucky to have survived the explosion. An investigation found his crew was “shorting,” not moving far enough away from blast sites in an effort to save time and complete the job that Friday afternoon. Marc was standing at the epicentre of a blast—it was like stepping onto a landmine.

Marc

Marc Shaw

His recovery was long and painful. He underwent 26 surgeries and was in hospitals for 24 months. Marc eventually lost his right leg. Now 47, he’s never worked since in oil and gas. Today, he has a successful career with the Department of National Defence and competed in sailing at the 2008 Olympic/Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Marc no longer shares his seismic incident publicly, finding it too hard to recount what he went through.

After nearly 24 years, Marc’s injury is still a tender wound to Maureen, too, in part because she has worked tirelessly to improve workplace safety. She is the former president and CEO of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (now Workplace Safety and Prevention Services), helped draft the B.C. Safety Charter and is a member of the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC and the Radiation Safety Institute Canada.

“It took me a long time before I could talk about what happened to Marc. I didn’t want to start to tear up in front of other CEOs,” she says. After a colleague said it was OK to show emotions, Maureen began to speak more about her family’s experience.

“And one of the reasons I have been an advocate of the Day of Mourning is that we need to always remember,” she says. “Our lives were altered and Marc lost 10 years of his life recovering and relearning. We did have a happy ending, but so many others don’t.”

She adds: “We know that the oil and gas industry has made great strides in improving safety, but if we don’t keep pressure on ourselves to keep improving, these incidents will continue. And as the industry starts to recover, it makes it all the more important.”

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