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Day of Mourning: Join our journey for workplace health and safety justice

Every day in Canada workers die on the job, succumb to work-related disease and suffer life-altering injuries. Even one injury though is one too many, an injustice for all.

The National Day of Mourning on April 28 is an essential part of our journey to prevent worker disability, disease and death. On this day we acknowledge the worker suffering caused by hazardous working conditions and we recommit to seeking justice for all. Thousands of Ontarians die annually as a result of hazardous exposures at work, significantly more than the few hundred often cited.  
This year Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) asks and attempts to answer the question, “What does workplace justice looks like?” In our Day of Mourning flyers, event listings, information sheets, videos and advertisements which bear the title, Justice Demands More, we explain “more” begins with superior prevention programs.

Duty of Care. Action Required.

Andrew Mudge, WHSC executive director, elaborates on this in his 2022 Day of Mourning message explaining, “Those in charge of workplaces have a duty of care to their workers. This involves more than chasing paper, completing checklists, and cashing rebate cheques. Occupational health and safety laws across Canada obligate employers to take every precaution reasonable to safeguard workers.”
When this duty of care is not met, employers and others can be subject to compliance orders and prosecution but is this enough, asks Mudge? “When this breach amounts to a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives and safety of workers resulting in death or bodily harm, justice demands more.”
History’s lessons can be painful and are often borne by workers and their families. Thirty years ago this May, the Westray Mine disaster shook Plymouth, Nova Scotia and our health and safety landscape despite the clear warnings —the reported unsafe working conditions, the uncontrolled buildup of methane gas, the lack of enforcement. The unspeakable tragedy claimed the lives of 26 miners, some still buried underground. 
The independent inquiry into the tragedy made 74 recommendations, most critically the creation of a new criminal law to make it possible to hold companies and their executives to account. The Canadian labour movement, and United Steelworkers union in particular, fought a 12-year campaign, to ensure Criminal Code changes, also known as the ‘Westray Law’, were finally won in 2004.

Precaution Required.

Some are calling for an independent inquiry into Canada’s handling of the COVID pandemic. Many answers already exist among the findings from the inquiry into the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Toronto hospitals in March 2003. It’s key take-home message—enshrine the precautionary principle in health and safety law and throughout our health system. Twenty years ago, this was deemed essential, especially during emergencies, to protect worker and public health and safety and to ensure all reasonable efforts to reduce risk are taken and do not await scientific proof. Had adequate precautions been adopted throughout the COVID crisis, the science confirming airborne transmission of the virus might not have been ignored, safer alternatives to toxic disinfectants might have been used, joint health and safety committees (JHSC) and worker reps may not have been sidelined and more than 100,000 Canadian workers may have been spared infection and countless others, death. Is it any wonder criminal negligence charges have been raised in some quarters?

Workplace health and safety justice demands much more: full employer responsibility, including comprehensive health and safety policies and programs that effectively control, if not eliminate hazards; meaningful worker participation in the development and implementation of these policies and programs; vigorous government enforcement of laws enacted to protect and compensate workers; and when justice demands, criminal prosecutions of those responsible for the harms visited on workers.

Take the first step. Attend an event near you!

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Start by joining us at a Day of Mourning event in your community. Working together much more is possible says, Mudge, “On April 28, we mourn for the dead, but every day forward, we take action to stop the killing and fight for the living. Let’s work to ensure hard-won worker rights AND employer responsibilities are upheld, let’s insist that employer duty of care includes superior workplace programs which embrace precautionary action, and lastly let’s press for access to trusted health and safety training and information resources. Justice for workers demands as much, if not more.”
Take the next step too! Register for any one of our scheduled health and safety training programs. Included among them, are our programs for joint health and safety committees, supervisors and workers, training designed to help prevent a host of occupational hazards, such as workplace violence and harassment, psychosocial hazards, indoor air and working at heights.

To learn more:
Share: WHSC Day of Mourning resources
Call: WHSC training services representative in your area

Share your vision of health and safety justice for workers at #makeworksafe.