Nobody likes to think they’re a statistic, but in 1996, that’s what Shirley Hickman and her family became. An explosion at the City of London arena where her son Tim had a part-time job left their lives changed forever.

Tim HickmanThe job had seemed perfect for Tim, who was a keen hockey player, because it enabled him to combine his love of sports with his interest in working with people – while also allowing him to pay for his college tuition and the car loan on his new jeep.

Tim was operating the ice-resurfacing machine that day. The side-by-side tanks of gasoline and hot wash water in the machine overheated, and vapours reached the nearby gas hot water heaters, where they ignited. Tim was caught in the ensuing explosion, and even while engulfed in flames, he ran to warn the players and clear the arena.

Ironically, Shirley was worried about her son that day, because he and his friends were planning a joint 21st birthday celebration. Like most mothers, she couldn’t help but worry that one of them might drink and drive. But rather than partying as planned, the youngsters spent the evening outside the burn unit of the local hospital, waiting for news of their critically injured friend.

Tim survived in the hospital for 10 long days, but then, eight days after his 21st birthday, he succumbed to his injuries.

Carrying on after a tragedy

“In those early days, we just had to figure out how to put one foot forward at a time. Each day brought new challenges. At first, we were protected by shock, and our friends and neighbours carried us. Little by little, their lives went back to normal – but ours never would. We learned about the investigative systems, the compensation systems, the legal systems and about being alone,” said Shirley.

Although Shirley and her family carry on, they feel like they will never again be an average family.

It’s so difficult to think that in a year, Tim will be gone longer than he lived. His memory and love will never die – his legacy is one of love and hope. Each time a new family member finds Threads of Life and a volunteer reaches out to provide peer support – Tim is a piece of that love and care. Each time his story is shared as part of prevention – the hope for a better place for others is part of that message.

How Shirley contributes to safety awareness

the human side of safetyIn her search for comfort, Shirley founded an organization called Threads of Life , which offers peer support to individuals who’ve been impacted by workplace tragedy. Through this amazing organization, Shirley has been able to devote time and energy to helping others survive the heartbreak of loss.

Shirley shares Tim’s story with students and health and safety consultants in order to educate and create awareness about the importance of safety training, properly installed equipment and proper review of equipment design – any of which could have helped to prevent the loss of her son. It’s one of the ways she works to help prevent the same thing happening to others.

National Day of Mourning

Like so many others in her situation, Shirley will be paying tribute to Tim and other victims of workplace tragedy on April 28th – the National Day of Mourning. This federally recognized day is dedicated to strengthening the resolve to establish safe conditions in the workplace and prevent injuries and deaths.

“The Day of Mourning is an opportunity for family members to meet in a public venue and share with others the hope of prevention for the future, while at the same time honouring the lives that have been forever changed by their family member going to work and either not coming home or not coming home well,” said Shirley.

Stay tuned for next week’s post when we will explain more about the Day of Mourning, and about North American Occupational Safety and Health Week (NAOSH). In the meantime, check out these other posts in our human side of safety series: