It was Feb. 11, 1999. David Ellis, 18, was working at a bakery in Oakville, Ontario. It was his second day on the job.
David was cleaning dough from an industrial mixer when the machinery accidentally became activated. He was drawn into the mixer by the rotating blades and struck his head. He was taken to hospital and died of massive head injuries six days later.
David took the job to save money for university. But, like many other young workers, he received only minimal training. The ‘buddy system’ failed when his buddy stepped out for a while and left David alone on the job. And he was unaware his employer had ignored a mandatory order to install a low-cost safety device on the outside of the mixer.
In hindsight, if these two things had been changed – training and following safety procedures – David Ellis might still be alive.
Rob Ellis, David’s father, reflects on what he wishes he’d done differently himself at that fateful time.
“David took the job and I assumed – I assumed as a businessman, and I assumed as a parent – that the place that he was going to work at was safe. And I assumed wrong. I assumed wrong.”
One mistake changed the lives of Rob Ellis and his family forever.
As Rob says in his presentations:
“It takes a lot of guts to ask questions to a new boss. I know it does, I’ve been there. If you don’t have enough backbone to do that, can I just ask you one thing… will you think of Dave? Just for one second, will you think of Dave? Dave would have said “Dad, don’t worry. My friends will help you out.” And that is what I’m relying on today. I’m relying on each and every one of you guys to think of Dave and to help me out. Because we can make a change.”
Rob Ellis started the Our Youth at Work charitable foundation to try to prevent any other young workers from dying or getting hurt at work. Its unique approach of linking up students, parents, educators and corporate executives and workers face-to-face to talk about workplace safety has impacted more than five million people across North America.
The foundation’s initiatives – which include creating public service announcements (PSAs), giving presentations to schools, corporations and community groups – are focused on:
- Building bridges between members of the community – parents, young workers, educators, employers, employees, and community leaders.
- Transferring knowledge between the participants using a highly successfully face-to-face model.
- Inspiring courage in young workers to stand up for their personal safety and rights.
- Influencing change within corporations to make health and safety a priority.
The tragic loss of David Ellis inspires us every day as we endeavor to educate people about health, safety and wellness in the workplace.