Day of Mourning

Please note out of respect and privacy of the individual and family in this reflection, we have changed the individuals’ name.

In the past year, 151 workers in British Columbia lost their lives from a workplace injury or disease. Across Canada, April 28 has been designated the Day of Mourning. At YVR, safety is our top priority and that’s why it is important for us to remember those who have lost their lives on the job and renew our commitment to ensuring healthy and safe workplaces.

In lieu of a ceremony at YVR this year, we spoke with John Lenahan, Director Engineering at the Vancouver Airport Authority. John has managed hundreds of projects through his years working at YVR, but on one project, one specific day—September 6, 2001 altered how he views safety at work forever. John shared the story of a young man named Matthew who lost his life 20 years ago working near the airport on a multi-jurisdictional project—making improvements on the Airport Connector project between Highway 99 and the airport at Bridgeport and No. 3 Road in Richmond.

At the time of the accident, Matt was just three months into his apprenticeship and only 20 years old—he had his whole life ahead of him. If Matt were alive today, he would be celebrating his 40th birthday this year.

“In many ways, it still haunts me. Twice a year, I think of him on September 6 (the day of the accident) and every Day of Mourning. I had sons at the time that were 21, 23 and another one who was about 17. Matt was right in the age group, and to see his life be snuffed out so quickly and for no good reason—just in the blink of an eye—just gone that way was hard to deal with." Every year, on September 6, John sends a note to his team and tells them, “Keep your heads up and let’s all make sure we get home from work.”

Matt was part of the ground crew—he walked along the milling machine and was responsible for adjusting the depth of the machine while the operator drove the machine. They had just finished a pass and were reversing getting ready to do the final pass. Matt was between the machine and a lane of active traffic separated by delineators. It is believed that Matt had simply turned his back to the machine to adjust the delineators, but as he did so the milling machine changed directions, knocking Matt over and killing him instantly.

After first learning of the accident from a safety officer, and as YVR’s project manager, John responded to the incident and attended the worksite—it was terrible to be on the scene—it was challenging to process both personally and professionally. John described this situation as totally unexpected.” The project had a really clean safety record up until this point,” said John.

As we remember Matt and those that have lost their lives on the job, we also think about the protocols that are in place today and have been adjusted over the years. “Twenty years ago, many young people joined the workforce and it was assumed they would pick [safety protocol] up on the job,” John lamented. “Today that is better recognized, there are more robust training programs and safety protocols”. As a project manager, John always ensures protocols are followed and keeps an eye out for everyone, but young workers especially.

We share this story as a stark reminder about why safety is always top of mind every day at YVR. We appreciate the efforts of our Health and Safety team, employees, contractors and business partners who consider safety in every aspect of their work from safety orientations, briefings, protocols and reporting systems. On this Day of Mourning, let’s remember, safety is always the top priority.