Speaking from experience about workplace safety

A WorkSafeBC prevention officer shares how his personal experience with workplace injury helps him make a difference for employers and workers. 

Photo of Carl Howells in a WorkSafeBC vest and hard hat.

Photo credit: © WorkSafeBC (Workers’ Compensation Board of B.C.), used with permission

Occupational safety officer Carl Howells reinvented his career after a life-changing workplace injury.

In 2011, Carl was working as a carpenter on a construction site when he was injured. As a result, he spent 17 days in hospital where he was fitted with metal rods and fuses in his leg and foot. It took six months for him to start walking again.

He describes what it was like when he realized he could not return to his carpentry work.

“When I couldn’t do that anymore, I felt like I’d lost my identity,” he says. “The hardest part was coming to that realization, and that’s the mental health aspect of it.”

Feelings of depression and anxiety are common among people recovering from workplace injuries.

“We see it on a regular basis,” Carl says. “We’ve all learned a lot about the mental health aspect, and the media is paying attention to this issue too.”

Workplace safety is a collaborative effort

Thanks to support from his family and WorkSafeBC, Carl retrained as a construction safety officer, and returned to work for his former employer. Then in 2018 he applied for a position as an occupational safety officer at WorkSafeBC. “I went through the process and got hired, and it’s been the best decision I ever made,” he says.

Now Carl works with employers in health care and construction.

“No employer wants their workers to get hurt,” he says. “I try to provide them with knowledge, and assist them in understanding what their responsibilities are. It’s the same for workers, who sometimes forget that they have responsibilities as well. It’s a collaborative effort.”

Carl says he finds it easy to talk about the seriousness of workplace safety because of his own story.

“Because of what I’ve experienced, I can bring that to the table. I can provide a scenario that I can speak to and have actually experienced while talking to workers and employers,” he says. “I’m not afraid to tell my story when I’m on a site. I don’t regularly try to bring it up, but sometimes there’ll be a situation where it applies and I can speak to it directly because I’ve experienced it myself.”

“If going to a job site helps prevent one person from experiencing what I’ve gone through or prevents a fatality, then I know I’m doing my part,” says Carl.

Carl is speaking on April 28 at the National Day of Mourning ceremony in Penticton. This annual event honours the memory of workers who have been killed or injured on the job or have incurred illness as a result of their work. It’s also a time for everyone to renew their commitment to creating safer workplaces.

See www.dayofmourning.bc.ca to find an event near you. There’s also a virtual ceremony at Jack Poole Plaza in Vancouver, hosted by WorkSafeBC, the BC Federation of Labour, and the Vancouver and District Labour Council.

Share this safety message:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *