Workers Health & Safety Centre

Remembering Lisa McCaskell: A worker health and safety champion

Perceptive, dedicated, respected. These are but a few of the words paid in tribute to worker health and safety advocate Lisa McCaskell upon her recent passing.

McCaskell, a former, long-serving Senior Health & Safety Officer at Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) died peacefully at home February 19 following a four-year struggle with cancer.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas remembers McCaskell’s humanity and singular ability. “Not one person anywhere disliked her. Her dedication and passion for her work, her family, our members and everyone around her was inspiring. We all called Lisa family, confidante, mentor, someone of great wisdom and brilliance, and most of all a friend. You could share anything with her. She had a gift of listening and supporting. Her calmness and directness stripped the B.S. out of any situation, laying the reality on the table to deal with.”

McCaskell brought unique credentials to the health and safety movement, having completed degrees in both nursing and journalism. She came to OPSEU in 1999 following several years as a health and safety specialist at the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA).

Some of McCaskell’s most important work was in a joint OPSEU/ONA submission prepared for the SARS Commission. Leah Casselman was OPSEU president during the SARS crisis. “You know you have met someone special when a Justice, Archie Campbell, publicly recognizes their work during his inquiry into the SARS crisis here in Ontario. I was never prouder of Lisa than at that point,” says Casselman.

“There are a lot of people who are 'experts' in their field,” adds Casselman. “Lisa was one of them because she shared her expertise and knowledge freely in order to build a stronger movement.”

True to form, McCaskell opened her presentation to the SARS Commission with this, "If workers are not protected from health and saftey hazards, patients and the public are not protected either. It's that simple. If workers are not told how to protect themselves, they cannot do so. If unions are left out of the process, we cannot play a role in helping our members get the information they need."

Erna Bujna, Occupational Health & Safety/Workers' Compensation Specialist at the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA), worked closely with McCaskell since 1996, including on the joint SARS Commission submission. Despite the pressing nature of their work, like Thomas, Bujna recalls McCaskell always made time to connect on a personal level, “We never started our day without catching up first and then somehow always finished the day being happy with the progress we made.”

McCaskell served on numerous boards too many to mention, but key ones included as Vice-Chair of the Institute for Work & Health and for 12 years as a director on the Centre for Research Expertise in Occupational Disease.

Dave Killham, executive director, Workers Health & Safety Centre, notes how McCaskell made important contributions to the work of WHSC as well, providing essential feedback to WHSC staff as they developed many key training programs for the public sector. “Lisa always offered us useful insights. Her first priority was the workers and ensuring they had the support and resources needed to protect their health and safety at work. Lisa was a go-to person on almost any worker health and safety issue. Her depth of knowledge and determined approach was a real asset to her union and the greater health and safety movement.”

Thomas agrees, “Her doggedness and will of steel moved health and safety in this province. We were lucky to know her and learn from her. She is gone too soon. She would want us all to continue the work.”

McCaskell is survived by her partner, Pedro Galache.

Friends and colleagues are invited to a celebration of Lisa’s life in April. 
WHAT: Celebration of life for Lisa McCaskell
WHEN: Saturday, April 20, 2019 from 2pm-5pm
WHO: Ralph Thornton Community Centre
765 Queen Street East, 3rd Floor, Toronto