HALIFAX -- It's been a difficult year for workplace deaths in New Brunswick.

According to WorkSafeNB, nine people lost their lives on the job in 2019 - more than the previous five years. Now, a New Brunswick woman, who lost her son in a workplace incident, says it's a reminder – safety needs to come first.

To many, Leica Gahan’s son was known as “#16” – a talented racecar driver, loved in the Fredericton area. Gahan says her son was above all, a hard worker. However, one day the 21-year-old’s life came to a sudden end while working for a company in Alberta when his excavator fell through ice.

“People believe that it won't happen to them, well it did,” says Gahan. “On March 14. It was a normal Friday; I went home after work and made supper, and at 10:30 that night, I was visited by RCMP officers – so it wasn't a normal Friday.”

At the time, Gahan was a health and safety officer for her family's construction company in New Brunswick. However, she says losing her son in a workplace incident strengthened her resolve in making the job safer – for everyone.

“Nobody deserves to die at work,” says Gahan. “It's all about education and how to work safe. People need to know the risks that are associated with their jobs; employees need to participate in the development of their health and safety program.”

According to WorkSafeNB’s incident reports, the nine workplace deaths in 2019 are higher than the number of deaths in the past five years – prompting the Crown Corporation to say the deaths reinforce their need to continue addressing safety education.

“We need to do a lot more in this province, I believe, to make sure we prevent accidents in the first place,” says New Brunswick Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister, Trevor Holder.

Holder introduced several safety-related amendments in November – including clarifying the law to ensure employers prioritize workers' health and safety – above all else.

“We need every employer to understand what their duties are under our system,” says WorkSafeNB president and CEO, Douglas Jones. “It's called the Internal Responsibilities System – so you have to own it, internally and say ‘safety's important to me.’"

Meanwhile, Gahan says she hopes 2020 sees more employers and employees regarding safety as a necessity – not a nuisance.

“I just wish that day my son died, that somebody would have called, or notified or stopped the process,” says Gahan. “I’m sure these families that have experienced a workplace fatality this year in New Brunswick feel the same way.”