The Fellows Foundation: Assisting families impacted by workplace fatalities

Partnership with the Fellows Foundation is complementary to AfPA’s goal of increasing safety within the roads construction industry.

Each year, around 200 Australian lives are lost through a traumatic death in the workplace, leaving families severely impacted. AfPA is shedding light on the works of the Fellows Foundation, which aims to support these families whole-heartedly.

Workplace fatalities affect hundreds of families each year. Around 200 Australians are killed at work and another 2000 die from occupational diseases year on year. Transport and construction industries, unfortunately, are among industries represented more in these numbers. The two sectors ranked first and third respectively in worker fatality rates in 2020, according to Safe Work Australia.

These incidents often have significant and prolonged economic, social and psychological impacts on families. For every worker killed on the job, there will typically be between 12 to 20 immediate family members and close friends and colleagues who will be affected. Children and young family members, in particular, can suffer long-term trauma as they lose a significant loved one, mentor and major income provider.

Moreover, families frequently feel isolated and ‘out of the loop’ in terms of institutional responses to workplace death. Without a single point of contact to assist them navigate the fallout, family members and close friends are left vulnerable, traumatised and confused as they continually retell and relive their story and therefore their grief.

For David Fellows, founder and chairman of the Fellows Foundation, the issue is one that’s very close to his heart. Nearly four years ago, David’s friend Ken Altoft was on traffic control duty on the Bruce highway near Sunshine Coast when he was fatally hit by a car around midnight. Over the past four years, David has seen, and experienced, first-hand the impact Ken’s death has had on his family and loved ones.

The Fellows Foundation is born

Having worked in occupational health and safety for over 30 years, David says he saw a need for a single source of contact that could provide timely, unbiased and agnostic support to those families impacted by a traumatic workplace death. This was how the Fellows Foundation was born.

“Helping the bereaved partners and friends is quite a difficult and clinical process. The families often need support to help them find good advice, be it financial counselling, legal counselling, mental counselling, or even mentoring programs for children,” he says.

“The Fellows Foundation, through its Workplace Legacy Program, will offer dedicated contact officers to families and those impacted by a traumatic death in the workplace. These contact officers will serve as a single point of contact for each case, providing clear and concise unbiased information along with introductions to vetted and approved service providers to assist impacted persons with the often complex and dehumanised processes following a workplace death.”

Having also experienced the loss of his own father at a young age, David says he knows the important role that a caring mentor can play for the grieving family.

“My father died on the line of duty when I was only one and a half years old. Because he was an ex-serviceman, the Legacy stepped in, and their help was invaluable to my mother and I. There was a chap who used to come once a month and visit me. He was the one who bought me my first football. We’d go fishing together or we would just go for a walk or kick the footy. But it gave me that male mentoring in my life. He had a huge impact on my formative years,” says David.

But while many of the service sectors such as fire brigades, police and the army, have their own Legacy programs in place, it is generally missing from other industries.

“Because workplace deaths are so scattered across different industries, not many organisations have a Legacy system in place to support families in the aftermath of a worker death. But unfortunately, the death of an employee is something that many employers will be faced with and when it happens, it’s important to know whom to contact,” says David.

“Apart from permanent and contract workers across all industries, our services will also include volunteers, like firefighting volunteers or search and rescue volunteers who lose their lives on the line of duty,” he adds.

Sponsorship and support

Established in 2018, the Fellows Foundation is still in its pilot phase, but David is hoping that with support from corporate partners and sponsors, the foundation will be able to step up its support for families.

So far, the Fellows Foundation has been supported by its first foundational partner, the Australian flexible Pavement Association (AfPA), as well as people who have offered their services voluntarily. But to offer more specialised services and direct financial support to families, David says more supporters are needed.

“In this initial phase, we are quite open to different levels of relationship. We hope that the industries that are severely affected by these traumatic deaths will be able to support us. We are currently engaging with corporates interested in supporting The Workplace Legacy Program. There are opportunities for basic sponsorship through to naming rights.

“Our goal is to be able to hire our first dedicated contact officers and have them exceptionally trained to offer counselling on various disciplines. With more monetary backing, we can also support families with immediate expenses, such as with funeral costs, as well as offering scholarship programs for the children to help them stay on the same education trajectory that they were on. Various studies have shown that children of parents who don’t go to university very rarely end up going to university, so there are real ripple effects on families if children miss on university education.”

Carlos Rial, Chief Executive Officer of AfPA, says partnership with the Fellows Foundation is complementary to AfPA’s greater goal of increasing safety within the roads construction industry.

“At AfPA, our goal, first and foremost, is to minimise risk of fatality and injuries during roadworks. We do this through support for proactive measures such as separation of road works from live traffic and offering best-practice training to our members and the rest of the industry. But, in the rare occasion that a catastrophic incident occurs, it’s very important that the right support mechanism is in place for the families,” he says.

“What the Fellows Foundation is doing is quite unique, and it is something that we would encourage other associations, particularly in the infrastructure industry, to jump on board and support. Our frontline workers are on project sites every day, delivering assets that are extremely valuable to the country. It’s only fair that we offer their families the best support that we can during their hardship.”

For more information about the Fellows Foundation, visit thefellowsfoundation.org.au, or contact David Fellows on 0418 163 121.


 

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