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Families face challenges after fatal workplace accidents

A British Columbia family who lost a loved one who died an unexpected death in March last year might be able to move forward after a year of battling with unanswered questions. Workplace accidents can be particularly traumatic because investigations can take many months before the cause of the incident is officially determined. However, dependents of deceased workers need not wait until WorkSafeBC's inquiries are completed before seeking workers' compensation benefits.

This family's loved one was a line cook in a pub in a Vancouver neighbourhood when he lost his life. WorkSafeBC inspectors reported that the employer failed to protect the safety and health of the employee. Their final report indicates that the cook stood on a shelf to reach a container that was located above the meat slicer. He lost his balance and fell onto the slicer's rotating blade, suffering fatal injuries.

The report further stated that another employee had removed the blade cover and other parts of the slicer, which was being cleaned at the time. WorkSafeBC found that the employer failed to establish and maintain a safety program that would have included a rule that equipment must be switched off during maintenance and cleaning. Furthermore, it was determined that the procedures used to clean the slicer did not comply with the instructions of the manufacturer.

When lives are lost in workplace accidents, it is only natural for surviving family members to want to hold someone responsible. Families seeking closure may be frustrated by how long it may take for the WorkSafeBC investigation to conclude. However, death benefits claims can be filed with the workers' compensation program of British Columbia immediately after the death, to assist with the expenses related to end-of-life arrangements. A lawyer who is experienced in all aspects of workers' compensation and occupational health and safety legislation can provide guidance through the claims process. Legal counsel can also assess whether grounds exist for additional legal action.

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