When it comes to workplace tragedies, a mining town like Greater Sudbury is well-aware that sometimes people don’t come home from work, leaving their families to pick up the pieces or carry on in the face of debilitating injuries.
That’s what makes the annual Steps of Life walk so important, said Holly Baril and John Cowx, the co-chairs of the city’s 16th annual march. The walk is an annual fundraiser for the charity Threads of Life, which offers support and services to families affected by workplace tragedies.
Saturday’s rain didn’t stop more than 100 people from gathering at Workplace Safety North on Cedar Street downtown on April 29 for the march.
Each year, the event features a family spokesperson, someone who can speak with first-hand experience on how workplace injuries and deaths affect the loved ones left behind.
In Sudbury for 2023, that spokesperson for Steps for Life is Briana Fram. Her brother Jordan Fram died in an underground mining accident when he was buried by an uncontrolled release of muck in 2011.
"Being the spokesperson for the Sudbury Steps for Life Walk is a way for me to honour my brother’s life, and to share my family and friend’s collective experience of living our lives in the aftermath of tragedy,” Fram said in the news release prior to the event. “My hope in sharing this story is to have others work safer and be there for others who have unfortunately shared similar tragedies.”
At the event, Fram said since her brother’s passing and the review of the Mining Act that followed (resulting in 18 recommendations to make Ontario underground mines safer) she feels there’s been a “cultural shift.”
“I think there’s a lot more awareness,” Fram said. “ The most important thing is that at the end of the day, people get to go home to their families.”
She added that more than ever workers know “if something feels unsafe, say something.”
For Sudbury MPP Jamie West, workplace safety has been a driving force of his career, particularly before entering into politics.
He said workplace tragedies affect the family most directly, but they also “leave a scar” across the whole community.
He feels workplace health and safety should be part of Ontario’s high school curriculum.
“You know, people start working at 15 or 16 years of age, but they only really learn about health and safety in their 20s,” and that’s something that has to change, West said.
While construction and mining get a lot of attention for workplace injuries, event co-chairs Baril and Cowx said they would like to see employers from other sectors, like retail and the service industry, get involved in Steps for Life because on-the-job injuries and death can happen at any workplace.
“People get injured on the job everywhere,” Cowx said.
“We would like to see more companies participate because it’s not just mining and construction — all workplaces are affected,” Baril said. “Health and safety in the workplace has to be as important as making money.”
The Steps for Life event featured a one-kilometre and a five-kilometre walk. The goal of the event this year was to raise $20,000, but organizers said once the total amount is tallied, they expect to bring in more than $30,000,
Through the event, local volunteers, businesses and families have raised more than $155,000 to provide families with peer support, information, and training to help them share their stories.
Mark Gentili is the editor of Sudbury.com.