Staff members of Recycling Today and other media groups that comprise GIE Media were sent reeling in mid-November with news that a colleague had died suddenly over the weekend in an auto accident.

Helen Duerr O’Halloran was the production manager at GIE Media for nearly 30 years, with her employment at GIE predating my own and most other members of the Recycling Today staff.

Her role in preparing all GIE magazines and books to be sent to the printer, taking subsequent quality control measures and ensuring that the United States Postal Service shipped magazines in the timeliest manner possible was vital to the company’s growth and success.

Helen was not asked to attend many recycling industry conferences on our media group’s behalf, so it is unlikely that many of our readers knew her. But anyone who has opened up a print issue of Recycling Today or any of its sister publications has benefitted from her work.

She is survived by her husband, a teenage son, an extended family and all of us at GIE Media. Around the office she was known for her “tell it like it is” personality coupled with a willingness to help out anyone at any time personally or professionally.

When one loses a family member, good friend or close colleague, there is always a swirl of thoughts. One of the foremost is certainly to remember that life can be fleeting, and few of us know what circumstances or events could cause us to suddenly lose someone.

As someone who writes about the recycling and waste sectors, the parade of safety seminars and presentations that have been hosted in the past several years also came to my mind. The industry has acknowledged that its safety record is lacking, and a number of organizations, such as the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), are taking measures to address the problem.

Many of those presenters have urged those listening to keep this thought in mind: No company or manager wants to be responsible for breaking news to family members that someone will not be coming home that day, or ever.

The statistics are not final, but the recycling and waste sectors continue to experience workplace injuries and fatalities in 2016, including a fatality in November.

It should not take the death of a friend or colleague to remind any of us that safety should be about more than an occasional staff meeting or a poster on the wall that fades into the background. Whatever it is that might motivate you to move safety practices into the highest priority level, the numbers indicate such motivation is desperately needed.