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Step up Your Safety with Candace Carnahan

Candace Carnahan
Candace Carnahan

Candace Carnahan shares her personal story of how a workplace incident resulting from an unguarded conveyor belt system changed her life forever. Utilizing her unique life lessons and sharing her belief of having the courage to care, she strives to spread awareness on the importance of maintaining a safe work culture.

Mediaplanet: Tell us about your journey. What lead you to work in a sawmill factory?

Candace Carnahan: I was 19 when I started. I was hired along with most of my friends as part of a summer employment program, following my first year of school at the University of New Brunswick (UNB). Students who worked at the mill in the summer were well-paid and considered lucky in our community because the summer earnings would sufficiently pay for the next year of school. 

Were you aware of the risks involved in this position?

I was certainly aware that there were risks involved. However, being aware of risks and truly accepting that you could hurt yourself by engaging in risky behaviour are not the same thing. I believe that people of all ages understand the potential for harm, however they inherently believe that the “bad thing” won’t happen to them.

Before I was injured, I was aware that there were risks involved, however crossing over the conveyor belt system where I did was not considered or identified as high-risk behaviour. That was just a clear-cut case of doing what everyone else was doing without considering the consequences.

Why do you think this incident took place?

I take it back to safety culture awareness as a young worker — we weren’t talking about it. The training at the mill that I received was the first time I had heard of the potential of being injured on the job, yet I had been in the workforce for four years by that time. I didn’t question the behaviour of others, who were more experienced and people I respected and trusted. The example they set by taking the short cut over the belt contributed to my injury — this is a fact recognized by all, and after all of these years is still a source of pain and guilt for many co-workers and friends. 

What did this incident teach you about overcoming adversity?

I feel as though my most important lessons were about the importance of perspective, and that’s something that we can all relate to. The only time I would ever feel “disabled” was when I knew in my heart that I was passing on an opportunity, telling myself it was something I didn’t care to do or wasn’t interested in, when I really knew I was terrified that my limb would limit me. I guess I was worried that maybe I wouldn’t look as confident as I wanted everyone to think I was, and it wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. That feeling, in my opinion, is more immobilizing than the absence of a limb.

I recognized that I had to at least try, even when I thought I couldn’t or didn’t want to. There was also a lot of positive reinforcement that came along with conquering the biggest obstacle that I was facing in my new life — and that biggest obstacle was allowing myself to consider, even for a second, the notion that “I can’t.”

What’s the highest importance of spreading awareness about workplace safety?

The “it can’t happen to me” attitude is still alive and well in many workplaces. I believe that the first step in not getting hurt, is simply recognizing that you could be.  The moment you realize you are not invincible, and that what is happening to others could happen to you, your attitude towards safety shifts. The tools you’ve been given make more sense. 

“The moment you realize you are not invincible, and that what is happening to others could happen to you, your attitude towards safety shifts.”

No one looks in the mirror in the morning as they brush their teeth thinking, “This is it for me, I’m not coming home from work today.” The fact is that it’s still happening. People are getting injured or killed every day at work, and this should NOT be part of the job. Most people will agree with that statement, yet they are still engaging in unsafe behaviour or allowing it to occur. 

My hope in spreading awareness is to prevent others from having to learn the lesson that I, and countless other Canadians, have learned the hard way — that it can happen to you. 

What does the Day of Mourning mean to you?

It’s a day that I observe with the knowledge of how fortunate I am to be alive. The fact is that I could have been killed at work that day had the conveyor belt not been stopped by the man who saved my life. I mourn for the families whose loved ones did not come home. I participate in the Steps for Life walk when I can, as a symbol of hope and to promote awareness of the impact of workplace injury or fatality has on families, workplaces, and communities.

I truly believe that workplace injuries are all preventable. I cannot subscribe to the idea that even one is acceptable because I know that the one is the person that is loved more than anything else in the world by someone. That person needs to make it home. One is one too many and I believe the families directly impacted by a preventable workplace injury would agree. 

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