It was Daniel Winston’s sixth shift as a swamper on a recycling truck when he was thrown from the back on Nov. 29, 2017.
He suffered a serious and life-altering head injury.
And while Winston’s injury was severe and rare, less serious swamper injuries are not uncommon. In the Eastern Fraser Valley – Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack and Agassiz – there are approximately 25 swamper injuries a year, three of them serious, according to WorkSafeBC statistics obtained by Black Press through a freedom of information request (FOI).
There were a total of 123 swamper injuries in the region between 2013 and 2017 (the last full year for which data was available), 14 of those serious.
In Chilliwack, there were 38 injuries in that time frame, six of them serious, including Winston. In Abbotsford, there were 81 injuries, 11 considered serious. In Mission, there were seven, none serious. And there was one swamper injured in Agassiz.
(A swamper is the term generally used to describe an employee who rides on the back of a garbage or recycling truck, but it also includes the drivers as well as delivery truck drivers and helpers.)
This information on swamper injuries comes out after ceremonies were held across B.C. to honour lost workers. Thousands of people attended events on April 28, including in Chilliwack, for the Day of Mourning to remember those who lost their lives on the job.
Overall there were 1,179 total number of WorkSafeBC claims in the province between 2013 and 2018 for the occupation that involves garbage workers. Of those, 39 per cent came from overexertion, 12 per cent were fall from elevation, 11 per cent “struck by”, 11 per cent fall from same level, and seven per cent motor vehicle incidents.
The Progress asked WorkSafeBC why swampers were not required to wear hard hats or other head protection, and why they are not required to use a restraint to attach them to the back of garbage trucks.
“The Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (OHSR) requires employers to do a workplace evaluation to determine appropriate protective equipment,” a WorkSafeBC spokesperson explained. “According to the OHSR and Workers’ Compensation Act, hard hats are required where there is the risk of head injury from falling, flying or thrown objects or other harmful contacts.
“With respect to the use of restraints, workers working as ‘swampers’ are exempted from the requirements to use a safety belt during short pickup runs at speeds of less than 20 km/h. The exemption would not be effective for extended travel or exceeding 20 km/h.”
The incident involving Winton’s injuries while on an Emterra truck is still under investigation by a WorkSafeBC fatal and serious injuries team, according to a spokesperson.
Just 12 days before Winston’s accident, another swamper was injured on an Emterra truck, this time in Yarrow when a worker was “compressed” between the unit and cedar hedging.
A WorkSafeBC inspection report obtained by The Progress found Emterra Environmental violated four Workers Compensation Act (WCA) regulations and two Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (OHSR).
The company was not fined.
As for Daniel Winston, his wife Catherine said this week that he is still in a care home requiring 24/7 care.
“Because of his frontal lobe injury he’s unable to make logical and safe decisions, is impulsive, can’t control thoughts, doesn’t understand social etiquette or even cues,” she said, adding that physically he is fine, but cognitively he is not the same person.
“It’s been life-changing for both of us. Heartbreaking in that Daniel’s physically here but the Daniel I married and loved is not.”
She said WorkSafeBC and RCMP investigators are still in contact with her, and neither investigation is closed.