Mary-Jaye knew from a young age that safety would play an important role in her life. Growing up her dad, Gerry Salmon, who had a background in the logging industry, became an Accident Prevention Officer for what was then known as the Workmen’s Compensation Board of B.C.
When Mary-Jaye was 11 years old, her mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. During the time her mom was going to hospitals for treatment, Gerry would take his daughter with him to work as a way to take her mind off of what was happening and to create some good times together. Mary-Jaye learned a lot about different jobs in different industries. “I really liked that and I knew then that I wanted to work in the safety field.”
When she graduated high school, Mary-Jaye began an apprenticeship in carpentry — an unusual path for a young woman in the early ’80s. As one of very few women in the construction industry, she worked hard and gained the respect of her male colleagues. Mary-Jaye also became a union rep and was elected as a Health and Safety Committee member.
In 1982, when she was in the first year of her apprenticeship in Kelowna, her dad and another officer were driving to do a work-related presentation for some loggers and they were involved in a car incident. Unfortunately, her dad died.
“My father’s death reminded me that no one is invincible. You think your dad is always going to be there, no matter what. And you see how quickly things can change,” recounts Mary-Jaye.
“In a split second, I was left with no birth parents. It changed everything. And even though my dad was focused on safety in the workplace, he still died while doing his job.”
Mary-Jaye’s long-time desire for a career in workplace safety led her to follow in her father’s footsteps by joining WorkSafeBC as an Occupational Safety Officer, with a construction focus – a job she’s been doing now for nine and a half years. “It feels great to be doing the job I have wanted since I was 12 years old.”
When it comes to safety in the workplace, an important message for Mary-Jaye is, if you’re not sure, ask. “It’s your right and responsibility to ensure you have a safe workplace. And it doesn’t matter your age. Speak up. Raise your hand. Be that voice and take the initiative.”
Safety is a joint effort. It’s employers, it’s supervisors, it’s workers and it’s those who enforce the rules. Though that isn’t all safety officers do. We consult and educate, and work with employers and workers to keep the workplace safe. It really doesn’t matter what your job is – you’re vulnerable every day. And safety awareness is not just at work – it’s at home too.”
Mary-Jaye believes that if we all work together and prepare for worst-case scenarios, chances are the worst-case scenario isn’t going to happen.
“If my parents were around today, I know they’d be proud of me and the job I do, as my friends and family are. Taking the path I did was perhaps a little harder than some people’s paths, but it’s shaped me into who I am today, and I think I turned out alright after all.”