How personal tragedy shaped Threads of Life’s mission

'We had to awaken people, we had to help all these families who are suffering'

How personal tragedy shaped Threads of Life’s mission

Maureen Shaw’s son, Mark, was severely injured in a workplace explosion in 1994.

“I was at home in Alberta. And we got a phone call one morning to say that our son had been in a dynamite explosion in northern British Columbia,” says Shaw. “And that began our horrendous journey, and living what so many people around the country and around the world like which is surviving an injury as an injured worker and as a family.”

Mark spent nearly two years in and out of hospital fighting for survival after being amputated. He had to re-educate himself, he had to go back to school – and he managed to do that.

“Here was a guy that also suffered from some significant learning disabilities, and he managed to go back to school and graduate from college, and then became a member of Canada’s paralympic team in 2008.”

Even prior to her son’s accident, Shaw was already well acquainted with workplace health and safety. Among other roles, she has previously served as the President and CEO of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA)*. Thanks to her role, Shaw says that she was blessed to already have connections, “I knew where to go, what to do, I knew how to fight.” But so many other survivors and families were left out in the cold not knowing who to turn to.

And no matter how well-versed in safety you are, nothing could ever prepare someone for a transformative event like this. “It had a huge impact on our whole family, I couldn’t even begin to describe it,” says Shaw.

Shaw says that it took her a long time before she was able to talk about the accident publicly. But as a leader in safety, she says that she realized it was important to talk about it, to hopefully remind people that accidents can happen to anybody. And as a leader, she says that hearing stories from other families made her realize that something had to be done – “we had to awaken people, we had to help all these families who are suffering.”

*IAPA merged with the Farm Safety Association (FSA) and the Ontario Service Safety Alliance (OSSA) in 2010 to become Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS).

Threads of Life

Threads of Life was founded to give a voice to workers and their families affected by workplace injuries and fatalities. The organization also provides support to those affected and organizes its Steps for Life walk to raise money and awareness.

Shaw was instrumental in getting Threads of Life off the ground alongside “a lovely coalition of dedicated people […] It was a wonderful thing to be involved right at the beginning.” Threads of Life helps raise awareness around workplace injuries and fatalities within communities, but it also helps to foster a sense of community among those affected by occupational injuries and deaths.

Threads of Life is almost unique in its mission in Canada and the rest of the world. Shaw says that she hopes that its success will be replicated globally to offer more victims and families the help and support they need.

Each year, Steps for Life brings together victims, families, advocates and safety enthusiasts from around Canada. Shaw says that the event has grown so much over the last few years into a nationwide event which brings together thousands of people to raise much-needed funds.

She says that the walk has really taken off a will continue to grow, and this is because of the group of passionate people who are behind it – from leaders to volunteer – “it’s just amazing.”

Shaw will be taking part – and speaking – at the Vancouver Steps for Life event which will take place on April 30. There will be a virtual option during this year’s Steps for Life as well, to adapt to people’s different comfort levels. You can find out more about Steps for Life and the different walks taking place around the country here.