Imagine how you would feel if you sent a loved one to work and they never came home.
The grief and the sense of loss would be unimaginable. Sadly, workplace deaths happen all too often, but for the past 25 years a dedicated group of volunteers has helped families through the pain.
GriefWork, part of Uniting Vic.Tas, has provided a shoulder to lean on for bereaved families helping them deal with their trauma, grief and loss following the death of a loved one at work.
It also supports veterans and their families in Victoria affected by the trauma of military work.
As we focus on Mental Health this October, we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the service and thousands of families it has supported across Victoria.
GriefWork founder Bette Campbell-Phillips knows what it’s like to lose a loved one at work. Her son Dean died in a work-related accident in 1991.
“I was a spinal injury educator and counsellor (when Dean died), so when it happened, I thought to myself ‘I’ve got this’,” Bette said.
“He was my only child, but I eventually decided to get help and I told the counsellor ‘I feel like half my life has been ripped away and she said, ‘I don’t know what you mean’.
“Unless you’ve been through it, you don’t know what it’s like to say goodbye to your loved one, send them off to work and for them to never come home.”
Before GriefWork was established, there was very little in the way of support for those grieving following a workplace death.
“I met a young woman who after the death of her husband was told ‘don’t worry, you’ll marry again,” Bette said.
“Over the past 25 years, we’ve supported more than 500 families across Victoria after work-related deaths, suicides and other traumatic deaths at work.
“We’ve also campaigned for heavy vehicles to be classified as workplaces and included as workplace deaths and on industrial manslaughter laws.
“Every year we hold a memorial to truck drivers who have lost their lives at Alexandra and a walk in Bendigo commemorating work-related suicides which regularly attracts 500 walkers.”
“The journey after a workplace death is typically a long one – it can take years – and involve investigations, inquests and court cases, so our support is open-ended and takes many different forms.
“We supported a family this year with their hobby farm and gathered a 4WD club to do some working bees and repair their fences. After her father’s death, we helped a young girl who was a big Hawthorn fan to present the guernseys to their AFLW players.
“People experience grief in different ways. For some people the grief can be as raw 20 years on as it is 12 months later. Dean was only 20 – we never expected to say goodbye and for him not to come home.
“Many people put their grief into a little box after the death of loved one at work. They put all their focus on the court case or the investigation, and when that all ends, it hits them again. That’s why we’re there at every stage to provide them with support.
“The landscape has changed so much in 25 years – there’s more awareness of the importance of workplace safety and supporting families after a death. There’s always going to be things that go wrong at work, but it’s about making it as safe as possible.
“GriefWork is something I’ve put my heart and soul into, and I feel like it’s my legacy to Dean. To be able to help families at one of the most difficult times in their lives is important.”