BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
Despite the nasty weather, the Red Lake Golf and Country Club was bustling with activity last Saturday as friends and family gathered for the first Eric Helgeson Memorial Golf Tournament.
His family decided it was time. It’s been 15 years since Eric’s death in a work-related accident. He was 20 at the time.
“The accident happened when Eric was working on the second level of a steel framed building bolting on a beam when a subcontractor hired to do the crane work on site that day failed to weigh the corner beam and move the crane into the proper position,” his mother, Tami Helgeson, explains. “The beam was too heavy and because the crane was not in the correct position the crane tipped over and the boom of the crane struck Eric where he was working and took the entire structure down. Several other people tried to get to him but were forced to stay back as the building was so unstable. I was told later that he was killed instantly.”
“At the time of the accident, crane operators in Manitoba did not need to be certified and I remembered thinking how ludicrous that was! You needed to have a license to drive a boat or a Skidoo, but not to operate a huge piece of equipment. It is now mandatory for all crane operators to be certified in Manitoba as a result of Eric’s death.”
After the accident, the Helgesons appeared in court many times over a two-year period. The judge ultimately fined the crane operator $10,000, but the crown proceeded to drop all the charges against the company the crane operator had worked for.
“I was so very angry and frustrated at the time and could not believe that that was the end of it. I have come to realize now, after 15 years, that there is no amount of money that would have ever been enough, no penalty or fine can measure up to our family’s loss.”
Since Eric’s death, Helgeson has taken many opportunities to spread the word about work safety. She’s joined a national organization called Threads of Life that supports victims of workplace accidents and their families, and for the past five years the Helgeson family has also participated in the organization’s Steps for Life walk in Winnipeg which raises money to fund forums and workshops as well as offer support to grieving families. Helgeson has lead many talks to students over the years and recently spoke at Goldcorp’s Day of Remembrance.
“I think the one thing that everyone needs to remember is what it would be like for the people who love you if you didn’t come home from work at the end of the day. Your own personal safety has to start and end with you… Young people all think they are ten feet tall and bullet proof and that nothing can ever happen to them, but it can, and sadly it does every single day.”
She says people often ask her how she is able to speak about Eric’s accident and death in public.
She says the answer is simple.
“It really is all I can do for Eric now. I can still do things everyday for my other children, but this is what I can do for him. I can get out there and try to stop it from happening to anyone else.”