Is Your Workplace a Killer?

On Sept. 29, 2000, Constable John Petropoulos of the Calgary Police Service responded to a break and enter complaint at a warehouse. He went into the building with the K-9 officer and his dog. Cst. Petropoulos went up to the mezzanine level to search for the intruder, where he stepped from a safe surface directly onto a false ceiling and fell 9 feet. He succumbed to a brain injury within hours.

The subsequent investigation revealed that, according to legislation, there should have been a safety railing in place. Anyone could have fallen where Cst. Petropoulos did; however, it was likely a familiar danger to those who worked at the warehouse on a regular basis for there was a warning sign hanging from the roof—10 feet past the actual hazard. When Cst. Petropoulos went into those unfamiliar surroundings in the dark to do his job of protecting the premise, he didn’t stand a chance.

“Our job as law enforcement officers is to protect the public and their interests,” said Darren Leggatt, the K-9 officer at the scene. “The reality is that people need to take efforts to protect us while we’re protecting them.”

Emergency workers, including police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, have dangerous jobs. But when communities work together and people start to perceive the issue of workplace safety as a shared responsibility, there are many ways to minimize the risks these workers face on a daily basis.

Whether you work in a shopping mall, office building, warehouse, manufacturing plant, construction site, or on a ranch, farm, oil rig, or refinery, there are ways you can help ensure emergency responders make it home safely to their families after every shift. If you make your workplace safe for emergency workers, you make it safer for everyone.

Put yourself in their boots

Turn off the lights, trigger the alarm, and put yourself in the boots of emergency responders who could be at your workplace during a fire, crime in progress, medical crisis, or other emergency. Your workplace is now their workplace—is it safe? If you answered no, then it’s time to make the change and potentially save lives. Here’s how.

  • Remove all broken glass, sharp objects, tools, spills, and debris.
  • Keep hallways and exits clear of clutter: Paramedics must navigate hallways with stretchers, and firefighters work with limited amounts of air. Both rescue workers need to move through and exit buildings quickly—and every second counts.
  • Emergency exits should never be locked, blocked, or chained. If there is an exit sign above a door, people must be able to exit.
  • Ensure safe storage of pallets and other stacked materials. Lighter items should be on top shelves, and heavier items below.
  • Ensure safe storage of hazardous and flammable materials.
  • Keep alleys and sidewalks clear and accessible for emergency vehicles and personnel.
  • Install safety railings/guard and toe rails.
  • Secure all scaffolding.
  • Obtain a permit for all renovations and have renovations done by a professional.
  • Ensure proper placement of signage. Keep signage current for dangers and hazards that change, and post the signs close to the actual danger.
  • Ensure open holes are covered. This is particularly important in industrial yards and areas where there is no sensor lighting. Deal with culverts and sinkholes immediately.
  • Ensure proper functioning of alarm systems. Test alarms regularly, and deal with malfunctions and false alarms promptly.
  • Ensure access points to construction sites are clearly marked for emergency services. At construction sites, stop cranes from lifting loads when emergency responders are on the scene.
  • Conduct a regular hazard assessment by asking yourself, “What could go wrong here, and what can I do to make sure nothing goes wrong here?”
About the Author: 

Maryanne Pope

  Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the founder and CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc., and the board chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund, an organization that raises public awareness about workplace safety issues facing emergency responders. Visit for details or for information on the Put Yourself in Our Boots safety campaign.