“One death is too many. One day is not enough.” Although a simple statement at first glance, WHSC’s 2016 Day of Mourning (DOM) message actually speaks powerfully of a shared and continued resolve to protect worker health and safety. With every worker who suffers, our motivation is renewed, our commitment to prevention strengthened.
In more than 50 Ontario communities thousands gathered to remember workers whose lives and livelihoods are forever compromised by hazardous working conditions. They also solemnly recognized the need to remain vigilant on workplace health and safety.
Asbestos – banning a silent killer
A national ban on asbestos was the key message communicated by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and many others at events this year. Asbestos-related disease is the leading cause of work-related death in Canada. Along with the CLC, many unions, affected workers and their families have joined forces under the Ban Asbestos Canada
banner to press for a ban on imports of asbestos-containing materials, a formal registry of buildings containing asbestos and a registry to track affected workers.
Many affected workers are too ill to attend DOM events themselves so others speak for them. Michelle Cote spoke for her father, Clem, at an event hosted by the Toronto & York Region Labour Council. (Cote is pictured here with Labour Council president, John Cartwright, who holds Cote's hard hat.)
A boilermaker by trade, Clem Cote, has mesothelioma, a result of asbestos exposures from working in refineries and other plants and also from years of changing his own brake pads. “My father was a proud, meticulous skilled trades’ worker. I’m here to tell his story. He wants to help ensure others don’t suffer too,” said Cote.
Remembering loved ones
Losing a loved one to a work-related injury or illness is heartbreaking each and every day. On April 28 it’s an especially difficult time for colleagues, families and friends who have suffered this loss.
Hundreds gathered to unveil a striking new monument, the Italian Fallen Workers Memorial
at Toronto’s Columbus Centre. Dedicated to Italian Canadians who lost their lives as a result of their work, the monument bears the names of 951 Ontario workers dating back to 1900. Marino Toppan, the project coordinator, told the crowd as word of the new monument grew he received even more calls from families wanting the name of their loved ones added to the memorial. This monument will be added to the catalogue of worker memorials
across Ontario the WHSC maintains on its web site.
An injury to one, is an injury to all
April 28 is recognized in some 100 countries as a memorial day for workers who’ve suffered from hazardous working conditions. It’s a day to remember workers everywhere and the common fight for safe and healthy work. Sari Sairanen, Unifor director of health, safety and environment, spoke to a large crowd at a DOM event hosted by the Hamilton & District Labour Council. Recounting a trip to Indonesia, Sairanen shared firsthand accounts of the plight of workers there who lack the most basic health and safety protection.
Here at home, others recall the loss of 26 miners in the deadly Westray Mine explosion on May 9, 1992. Nancy Hutchison, national head of the USW health, safety and environment department, told a crowd at Kingston’s City Hall that hard-won Criminal Code amendments, intended to hold employers accountable for workplace fatalities, risk becoming a paper tiger. “When you go to a work site that has a fatality, you need to look at it as a crime scene like any other scene,” said Hutchison who called for greater enforcement of the Criminal Code following a workplace death.
Fight for the living
At other events, including in Stratford, first responders came out to speak in support of new legislation which will allow for faster access to compensation for work-related post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many others also drew attention to workplace mental injuries now that Ontario employers have a legal duty to create a workplace sexual harassment program and must do so in consultation with worker health and safety representatives.
Day of Mourning organizers also welcomed members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, some of whom were attending community events for the first time.
Fighting for the living includes quality training
For our part, WHSC participated as an advertiser and contributor in a special Day of Mourning insert to the print version of the Toronto Star published April 28. The special section was distributed to Star business and household subscribers in Toronto and the GTA with a circulation of 222,000 and readership of 622,000.
On the ground, WHSC staff and leadership also participated in DOM events across the province speaking to the critical role of quality health and safety training and the devastating tragedies that can occur when training obligations are unmet, inadequate and lack a specific training standard to guide employer compliance.
What often gets passed off as training—lectures, videos, posters and online resources—fails workers on two counts by blaming them for their own demise and by failing to address root causes, the workplace hazards themselves. In this year’s message, Dave Killham, WHSC executive director, noted that April 28 reminds us that much work remains, equally remembering the fallen and fighting for the living. “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’.”
Check out the Toronto Star special DOM insert
and WHSC’s editorial and ad
Visit WHSC’s Facebook page for Day of Mourning event photos.
Learn how WHSC’s information
and training resources
can support your workplace prevention efforts every day of the year. Contact WHSC and ask to speak with a training services representative.
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