An Extraordinary Fighter

In early 2016, Ian Lavoie’s life was changed forever. Today, to hear Ian recount these traumatic events is to recognize the story of an extraordinary fighter and survivor.

A member of Steelworkers Local 8897, working as a finisher at the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Longueil, Que., Ian suffered catastrophic injuries on the job on Feb. 19, 2016. He was rushed to hospital and hovered between life and death during lengthy surgical procedures, including the amputation of one of his legs.

In the late afternoon of Feb. 19, during his shift at the steel mill, Ian offered to help out a co-worker in the plant’s shipping department. In a split-second, a load of 23-foot steel rods came crashing down on him, causing him to fall onto red-hot steel just coming out of the rolling mill. His left leg was severed below the knee, he suffered third-degree burns, severed arteries and numerous other critical injuries.

A first responder on ArcelorMittal’s rescue teams for several years, Ian knew instantly that he was in a fight for his life. And he knew his chances would be better if he could stay awake.

‘I felt this fury, to live’

“I knew I couldn’t lose consciousness, so I fought it, very hard. I felt this fury, to live. As I was lying underneath that load of rods, I was thinking of my kids and Valérie (his partner),” he recalled.

“When I got to the hospital the doctors said it was 50-50. There was so much internal bleeding, two of my arteries were severed.”

Ian thought about how both he and Valérie had already lost their parents.

“There are no grandparents anymore. So there was no way I was leaving. So I fought. I was conscious right up until I got to the operating room,” he said.

Ian ultimately underwent six surgeries, including an initial, 13-hour operation and the amputation of his left leg above the knee. Following the initial surgery, he remained in a coma for three weeks.

“The first thing that came to me when I woke up from my coma was to celebrate life, because I was still alive,” he said.

But Ian’s battle was far from over. He spent the next few months in hospital, after which he was transferred to a rehabilitation centre where he stayed until late summer. More than a year later, Ian is continuing his rehab as an outpatient.

Health and safety prevention – ‘super important’

Quebec’s workplace health and safety agency, the CNESST, has investigated the disastrous incident at the ArcelorMittal steel plant. While the process continues, the company has been contesting some of the corrective safety measures ordered by the agency.

But Ian Lavoie knows the hazards he and his co-workers were confronted with on the job.
Looking back, he recognizes the traumatic events of February 2016 could have been avoided if greater safety and prevention measures were in place the steel plant.

“I saw things that should never have been sitting in the warehouses. Piles of stuff that did not comply (with safe practices). Maybe we had gotten used to seeing these things. Maybe we closed our eyes and simply ignored them (because) this is a steel mill, there are risks everywhere,” he said.

“It was like the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. And on February 19, at 4:45 p.m., the sword fell.”

Ian was warmly welcomed by his USW brothers and sisters at the Steelworkers District 5 Conference last November, where he paid tribute to his co-workers, family and friends for their support. He also praised the health and safety work being done by his colleagues at Local 8897 and by all workplace health and safety representatives.

“Sometimes, you would hear people say ‘they’re so tiresome, always going on about health and safety.’ I said it myself too, in the past. But it’s their job, it’s what they do. And now I realize that this vigilance, this focus on health and safety processes is super important, it’s there to protect us.”

The right to refuse is a duty!

Quebec Steelworkers Director Alain Croteau reminded conference delegates that workers must not be afraid of enforcing their rights to a healthy and safe workplace.

“Yes, sometimes the employer will try to make us pay the price. But we have to fight all the way and never back down. The right to refuse is more than a right, it’s a duty!” Croteau said.

Today, Ian Lavoie is walking again, with his “robocop” prosthesis, and he hopes to eventually return to work.

In the meantime, he continues to celebrate life.

This article appears in the June 2017 edition of USW@Work magazine.

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