By Michael Wood
In my comments opening last month's GOSH conference, I told the attendees a story that began with a 19-year-old worker making his way into the woods in 1948 as an axe man on a survey crew for Long Bell Logging Company in southwest Washington.
I noted that a story such as this, when told at a safety and health conference, often leads to tragedy – to a serious disability or a death on the job. Such risks remain real in the timber industry in 2015; they certainly were very real in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. But that worker did not die in the woods.
He spent his career working his way through a number of different jobs in the forest products industry, but he always described himself simply as "a logger." He was, in fact, happy to explain the difference between "a logger" and "a forester," which often involved a discussion of the limitations of a college education and the mistakes that could be made by "smart-a## college kids" (even as he strongly encouraged his children to get as much education as they could). He raised four children, the first born while he was still on the Long Bell crew and the last when he returned from working overseas in the late 1960s.
In the days before that young logger of the '40s – Davis Wood, my father – passed away several weeks ago, he had the chance to spend time not only with those four children, but also with six grandchildren and three great grandchildren, as well as a range of friends and loved ones of all ages. He was able to leave behind a family that he loved and that he had equipped to care for themselves and for one another.
I noted in my GOSH comments that the story could easily have been very different. He could have been killed in the woods before his first two children were in school, and he certainly could have been killed before the births of his third and fourth children. We grieve for him, and his loss, even at 86, is difficult for his family to bear. Our family's story is not unique, of course. The loss of a parent is an experience most of us have either shared or will share at some point. But at least we can look at his life as having been a full and well-lived life. A complete life.
Had my father been taken from us by a workplace accident, my family would not have had that comfort. As I have said before, any death in the workplace is a tragedy. It is a life cut short. It is a loss of dreams, of the future, and of a life of love and sharing. Whether those grieving such a death are family or are friends, they know that it was not, in fact "time." It came too early.
I would offer this reminder to all those who strive to address hazards that can cause injury, illness, and death in the workplace: As much as I feel the loss of my father, I know that the pain and tragedy is multiplied many times for those who lose a loved one in the workplace. And that is why we do what we do. ▉
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