The 61-year-old whose workplace death is being probed by Ontario’s Labour Ministry is being remembered by his boss as a kind person who went out of his way to help others.
The London Free Press has identified the deceased as Gary Longworth of St. Thomas. He died Monday morning at OJB Industries, a farm-equipment manufacturer in Lucan whose owner says he found his employee unconscious on the floor at the Breen Drive factory.
“He was a caring person and was really good at his job,” owner Otto Bloemen said in an interview Friday. “If you’d ask him to stay an extra hour, he’d always do it. He really loved being on the farm. He loved the animals, and the dogs always got treats from him."
Longworth, a five-year employee, was working on his own before his death, Bloemen said. A fire alerted him to the area where he found Longworth, he said. “He shut the shot blaster off . . . but didn’t shut off the compressor. (It) ran for half an hour without pumping any air and overheated. That’s when the fire started but there was no smoke or anything.”
Emergency crews were called Monday at about 9:30 a.m. to the business, where police said one person was pronounced dead at the scene. Police ruled the workplace incident as “non-suspicious” and the Labour Ministry is conducting a mandatory investigation.
As of Friday, ministry officials said inspectors had issued one order and four requirements to OJB Industries. The ministry declined to specify what they were, citing the ongoing investigation, but Bloemen said the requirements were related to providing documentation about the company’s paint booth, air system, recent safety inspections and respiratory protocol.
He said the order to secure the scene of the paint booth, where Longworth was found, was lifted, but the company will have to get their new equipment approved by the ministry.
Though the probe into Longworth’s death is not complete, Bloemen cautioned, he believes it may be attributed to natural causes. “It still looks like he passed out by natural causes, like a heart attack or something.”
Still shocked over his sudden death, Bloemen hopes the autopsy results will provide him and the family with some answers. “Everybody wants to know what really happened to him. He got pulled away from us so quick, and no one expected it.”
Loved ones are remembering Longworth as a “dearly loved” husband, father of four kids and grandfather who enjoyed the outdoors.
“Gary enjoyed riding motorcycles and going to Port Dover for Friday the 13th,” his obituary reads. “He enjoyed being out on his boat, cooking for family and friends and he loved spending time with his grandchildren and dogs.”
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press