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Hopeton Durrant remembers July 4, 1994, as the worst day of his life.
Durrant had just started his afternoon shift as a die press operator, a job he held for seven years. Assigned to cleanup duty that day, he walked around the massive machine, which makes washers and dryers, to make sure it was safe to operate.
He had dropped his protective gloves, so he put his left hand on a guide post to steady himself as he bent down to pick them up. That’s when he felt pressure bearing down on his hand and thought it was a co-worker playing a trick.
“I said, ‘Come on guy, this is no time for joking around,’” he recalled. “When I looked I saw the big monster machine on top of my hand.” A co-worker had activated the 550-tonne press. It crushed Durrant’s hand and cut a hole more than six centimetres in diameter through his palm. In a panic, Durrant tried to wrench his hand free of the press but only managed to tear three fingers. It took 16 hours of surgery, and multiple operations since, to reattach two of Durrant’s fingers and his palm, which had been brought to the hospital in a bag. The third finger couldn’t be saved.
More than 12 years later, he still wears a ski glove year-round because his mangled hand is constantly cold and in pain. The plant was fined $35,000 for workplace safety violations. It closed down in November of that year.
Durrant was 54 when his hand was crushed; he couldn’t return to his job as a manual labourer but was too old to retrain for a new career. He earned about $1,700 a month in disability payments until those stopped when he turned 65. Now 66, he subsists on less than $400 a month in pension and old age security and feels he was tossed aside by a system that doesn’t “protect injured workers at the end of their careers.“
A study by the Centre for Study of Living Standards in Ottawa has found older workers are more likely to die in workplace accidents than their young co-workers.
The study, which analyzed data from provincial workers’ compensation boards, found the fatality rate went up with age and was 10 times higher for workers in their 60s than workers in their teens.
“That was surprising,” said Andrew Sharpe, the centre’s executive director. “Most people think it’s the young, inexperienced workers dying from accidents. But, in fact, our numbers don’t really show that at all. In fact, it goes up with age.”