Howard Willems Wins Bob Sass OH&S Award

The January 2013 issue of The Labour Reporter features an article on Howard Willems. The newsletter, published by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, has been the voice of Saskatchewan’s working families since 1956. The article has been reproduced below with links added.


The January 2013 issue of The Labour Reporter features an article on Howard Willems. The newsletter, published by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, has been the voice of Saskatchewan’s working families since 1956. The article has been reproduced below with links added.

Howard Willems Wins Bob Sass OH&S award

The 2012 SFL Occupational Health and Safety Award was presented at Convention to Howard Willems. Unfortunately, due to advanced mesothelioma – a rare lung cancer caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos fibres – Howard was unable to receive the reward in person. We were extremely fortunate to have his sister, Audrey Berlovan, and stepson, Jesse Todd, in attendance to accept the award on his behalf.

Howard Willems worked as an inspector for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency from 1981 until his retirement in 2012. While there, he was very active within his union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). He cochaired both his local’s OH&S committee and PSAC’s Regional Committee for nearly a decade. Howard served as President of Agriculture Local 40022 between 1995 and 2002, at which time he was chosen to serve as the Regional Vice–President for the Agriculture Union. In addition to all this, Howard also served as the National Vice-President for Agriculture Union. As Vice-President with PSAC, he sat for two terms on the SFL Occupational Health and Safety Committee, and was a valued member of the CFIA’s National OH&S Policy Committee between 2005 and 2011.

In 2004, Howard began his work with Bob Sass on OH&S and asbestos issues that would come to dramatically impact his own life. In 2010, Howard took an active role as the Co-Chair of, what was then called, the Ban Asbestos Committee. Now the Saskatchewan Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (SADAO), the committee is actively working on establishing a comprehensive public registry, cataloguing the presence of asbestos in schools and other public or commercial buildings and providing information to victims of asbestos related diseases.

Thanks to Howard’s passion and dedication, the city of Saskatoon has now made a written commitment to conduct an assessment of its inventory and to establish a registry by early 2014. In September 2012, he launched the Public Enemy postcard campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos and to encourage other municipalities to develop their own registries.

Unfortunately for his family, his many friends, and for people across Saskatchewan that have benefitted from Howard’s work on OH&S issues, in October of 2010 Howard was diagnosed with lung cancer, specifically mesothelioma. The Saskatchewan Workers Compensation Board has classified Howard’s condition as a work-related injury.

Sadly, on Nov. 8, Howard passed away after struggling for more than two years with his condition. The passing of Howard Willems is a tremendous loss for people across Saskatchewan that have benefited from his tireless work to improve the occupational health and safety standards in our province.

Selflessly and without complaint, even as he grew very ill, Howard continued in his struggle to make Saskatchewan a safer place for future generations of working people, and the Federation is extremely proud to call him the latest recipient of the Bob Sass Occupational Health and Safety Award.

We wish his family all this best in this very difficult time.

ABOVE: Howard’s sister and stepson accepted the Bob Sass OH&S Award at the 2012 SFL  convention. Howard died from mes othelioma in November.

TOP: Howard Willems with his wife, Brenda.