In this human side of safety series, we’re going to meet some people who have lost loved ones in a workplace tragedy. Their stories provide a poignant reminder of the importance of safety culture and safety awareness in our industry. This week, we spoke with Arlene Vogler, who lost her son Jonathan in 2005…

When the doorbell rings at 5 a.m. and there’s a policeman standing there, it’s never a good thing.

The human side of safety - EnformThat’s what Arlene experienced early in the morning of January 14th, 2005. “We’ve had a call from the Grande Prairie RCMP,” said the officer and without any further words Arlene knew that she had lost her precious son, Jonathan.

Originally from New Brunswick, 21-year-old Jonathan was in Grande Prairie working for a well testing company. He was extremely safety conscious and made sure to complete all the courses and training he needed, such as confined spaces, general safety and CPR, as well as courses on the different gases he might come into contact with.

And yet he was still killed at work.

His is a story of how a failure to enforce safety protocols can result in tragedy.

It all happened on a bitterly cold day. Jonathan, who was removing bolts on a meter run that had broken down the previous night, was left alone when his supervisor went to get parts and his coworkers sought shelter from the elements.

The temperature had dipped to -40 degrees, making it necessary to heat up the separator shack attached to the meter, to prevent freezing. This caused condensation to form.

When the supervisor returned, Jonathan was nowhere to be found; that is until they searched the separator shack. Jonathan was unconscious on the floor. He died on scene.

A break-down in process safety

When we look at Jonathan’s story we can see that there were several ways in which formal safety protocols could have saved his life:

  • Jonathan was not made aware of the danger of gases seeping out of the meter run once the bolts were removed
  • A full hazard assessment was not completed
  • No respiratory equipment was provided
  • Jonathan was left alone

Human errors such as these have the potential to render even the most efficient and well-detailed processes, and the most sophisticated technological safeguards useless. That’s why at Enform we place such a high priority on the importance of operationalizing safety culture. It’s a way of ensuring that process safety protocols becomes intrinsic to the behaviours, thoughts and attitudes of the entire workforce.

One workplace death changes many lives

When a workplace incident results in a fatality or permanent injury, it wounds more than the victim. “When Jonathan died, a part of me died with him,” said Arlene. “I treasure every memory I have of him.”

“I have learned to live with loss and the ache in my heart, but if I can hope for anything it is that people will learn from Jonathan’s death. Perhaps the lessons learned can help prevent countless others from being exposed to workplace danger, and save their families from living the nightmare I live every day.”

Arlene now volunteers with Threads of Life, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting those who have been impacted by workplace tragedy. She shares her story to help create awareness around the issues of workplace safety and injury prevention.

You can read more about the human side of workplace tragedy in our Safety survivors series:

Organizational safety culture

Is safety culture a top priority for your company? Check out these other blog posts where we explain why it should be, and provide information on improving safety culture: