Workers Health & Safety Centre

“One death is too many. One day is not enough.”

“One death is too many. One day is not enough.”

2016 Day of Mourning Message
Dave Killham, Executive Director, WHSC

Although a simple statement at first glance, our 2016 Day of Mourning message actually speaks powerfully of our shared and continued resolve to protect worker health and safety. With every worker who suffers, our motivation is renewed, our commitment to prevention strengthened.

Every April 28 we pause and recognize a National Day of Mourning for workers injured, made ill or killed as a result of hazardous working conditions. Our challenge is to ensure we make time for prevention every other day of the year.

Worker suffering—unacceptable by any measure

There is much debate still over reported statistics on work-related injury, disease and death. In the end, these numbers will always fail us, regardless of how they’re calculated. Why? As long as one worker suffers from a preventable work-related incident, this is unacceptable by any measure.
Government-commissioned reports have found that workplace injuries and illnesses are indeed underreported. This practice is reinforced by incentive programs which reward employers who report lower than average injury rates or who simply comply with minimum legal standards.
In our globalized economy and with changing patterns of work organization, far too many workers have precarious employment—jobs that are poorly paid, provide few benefits, are part-time and often contract-based. These increasingly informal work arrangements weaken links to the workplace and make it more difficult for workers to participate in workplace health and safety efforts. Without workplace supports, these workers are less likely to report injuries and illnesses fearing reprisals despite legal protections. 

Setting standards for quality training

Ontario’s Occupational Health & Safety Act recognizes the value of training and places significant duties on employers to provide information, instruction and supervision to workers to protect their health and safety. Too often these obligations are unmet or inadequate and lack a specific training standard to guide employer compliance.
As a minimum, employers must comply with specific training requirements including those related to worker awareness, joint health and safety committee (JHSC) certification, WHMIS, confined space, workplace violence, working at heights, and competency for supervisors and equipment operators.
Some of these requirements in Ontario are the result of recommendations from an Expert Panel report released in December 2010. More than five years later however, training standards for worker representatives in small workplaces, mandatory entry level training for construction workers and training to identify, assess and control a number of other significant workplace hazards are not yet in place, despite Panel recommendations for most to be implemented within the first 12 months. Sadly, even when standards are identified, and deemed essential, they are too slow to come into force, all the while workers’ health and safety is at risk.

Real training informs and engages

WHSC has long called for and provided quality training that ensures real learning takes places. This is also a critical component of any effective health and safety prevention program.
But what defines quality training? Not all training programs, or the standards that govern them, are created equal. Some of what passes for occupational health and safety training (lectures, videos, posters and online resources) is not training at all.
Good occupational training distinguishes itself from the education of children. Adults bring a life‑time of experience to training. They are not empty vessels into which knowledge is poured.
Some training actually blames workers for their own demise.  This is neither good training nor real prevention. Truly effective health and safety training is hazard-based and prevention-focused. It gets to the root cause of workplace injuries and illness by targeting the real source—the hazards themselves. Leaving hazardous working conditions unchecked is the greatest failure of all and will only lead to more tragedy.
Research tells us then good training:
  • Embraces proven adult teaching techniques.
  • Builds on workers’ existing knowledge.
  • Is delivered by a trusted and qualified source.
  • Provides opportunity to apply and observe what is learned.
  • Addresses root problems—namely workplace hazards.

Only when workers and all workplace representatives receive the information, instruction and training they need, and are entitled to by law, will we have safer, healthier work and avoid more preventable tragedies. Only then will workers be informed and encouraged to take an active role in matters that affect their health and safety.
On April 28 we pause to remember the lives forever compromised by uncontrolled hazards. On every other day of the year, we must make time for prevention. Only when we commit to both can we honestly say that we ‘fight for the living’.
Be sure to attend a Day of Mourning event in your community. Visit the events section of our web site dedicated to Day of Mourning which includes a complete list of events in Ontario and an up‑to-date online catalogue of Worker Memorials across Ontario. Check out the rest of our web site for a host of other information and training resources to support ongoing workplace prevention efforts.