Earning a living shouldn’t mean workers have to risk their lives.
That’s why since 1991, Apr. 28 has been recognized across Canada as the National Day of Mourning to remember those who have been injured or killed on the job, while also raising awareness about the need for increased safety measures for employees.
David Eales, Waterloo Regional Labour Council president, says they’re pushing for stronger legislation surrounding workplace health and safety.
“We think we need to treat flagrant disregard for workers’ health and safety as a criminal act. If an employer or a board of directors or company directors or CEO willfully forgoes safety measures they should be tried criminally,” Eales said.
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While he says employers are moving in the right direction, he doesn’t feel they’re moving there quickly enough.
According to the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada in 2015 there were 281 workplace deaths in Ontario, equal to about one every 31 hours. When it comes to injuries, there were 51,570, or one every 10 minutes.
“Far too many people are still losing their lives and getting hurt in Canada. We’re still talking over 1,000 people a year are killed on the job on Canada and that’s absolutely ridiculous,” Eales said.
The Labour Council will hold a memorial service at the Waterloo City Hall Monument to Injured and Fallen Workers at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. Local politicians and community members will share their stories.
“Usually it’s very well attended. I think it’s one of the events that happen in the community that bring people together of all stripes. We have local politicians from all three parties show up and speak. It’s very non-partisan, it’s just a solemn occasion. Usually we have chiefs of police, fire chiefs, people like that attend and representatives of all unions, members of the community. We’ve had anywhere from 150 to 500 people depending on the day and the weather,” Eales said.
He notes this year in particular is important to mark because in a couple weeks it will be the 25th anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster in Plymouth, Nova Scotia that killed 26 coalminers.
In hopes of decreasing the frequency of workplace related death and injury, the labour council spends a lot of time lobbying the government.
“We constantly try to raise this issue and that’s part of what the day is about. We try to bring light to the fact that going to work should not be as dangerous as it is,” Eales said.
While the construction industry is one of the most often heard about when it comes to workplace death, he says many people don’t realize nursing is actually considered as one of the most dangerous professions in the country when it comes to injuries on the job.
“We have to take into account that there are people that are exposed to hazardous chemicals, infectious disease, things like that on the job that may not show up tomorrow or the day you’re exposed, but 20 years later,” Eales said.
He suggests employers should become more aware of what’s happening in their workplace, and what the dangers are so that they can protect their employees.
The National Day of Mourning has since spread to about 100 countries.
“Four years ago there was the garment factory in Bangladesh that collapsed, that’s almost four years ago to the day, that killed hundreds and hundreds of people just going to work to make shoes and socks and t-shirts that mainly get sold here in Canada. So I think when we talk about changes needing to happen for health and safety for workers, it’s not just here, it’s not just locally, provincially or federally. Really it needs to be talked about in the global perspective.”