FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)
April 28th, the National Day of Mourning, is a time for Canadians to remember those who have died at work, but the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) says with fatality rates on the rise, it is also a time to realize the need for change.
Data from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada shows that worker fatalities have been increasing since 1993, when there were a total of 758 fatalities across the country, to 1,014 last year — almost three people every day. There have been more than 16,000 worker fatalities since 1993.
“It’s an unfortunate reality that occupational fatalities have not gone down, they’ve gone up, which stands in stark contrast to every other developed nation we tend to compare ourselves to,” says Andrea Peart, national representative of the CLC’s health and safety department.
With the passing of Bill C-45 — the Westray Bill — in 2004, Canada has some of the strongest health and safety laws in the world, Peart argues, but the country does not use them enough.
“We passed legislation in parliament to amend the Criminal Code of Canada to hold employers who fail to take steps to protect the lives of their employees criminally liable,” she says. “If provinces and territories are using the Westray legislation as intended, we could make significant inroads in protecting workers health and safety and, to be frank, we could save lives.”
So far, only Ontario and Quebec have laid charges under the provisions created by the bill, and only Quebec has successfully convicted.
“Being the 20th anniversary of the Westray mining disaster, we’re doing a lot of work within a political landscape of being tough on crime,” she says, referring to the 1992 coal mining explosion in Plymouth, Nova Scotia where 26 miners were killed after methane gas ignited. “If we’re going to be tough on crime, we’ve got to be tough on corporate crime as well,” Peart says, adding that she has met police officers who were unaware of the effects of the bill.
“They’re eager to have the training and the tools they need to ensure occupational fatalities are investigated and work in collaboration with the relevant ministry of labour, as the system is intended.”
Before next year’s National Day of Mourning, Peart says the CLC’s goal is to have a special prosecutor trained in corporate criminal negligence and appointed in every province and territory, pointing out that the same thing has been done with drunk driving, drugs and gangs.
The National Day of Mourning was started 28 years ago in Sudbury, Ontario by United Steelworkers members and launched by the CLC. It has since grown to be recognized in over 80 countries around the world.
“The reality is it really is a local event where people mourn the lives of specific people who are no longer with us, but even at the local level they know it is not unique to their community,” says Peart, adding that there is a proposal to have the day recognized by the United Nations as an official day that would have the organization call on all member states to mark it.
Ceremonies will be held by health and safety authorities across the country and the Canadian flag on Parliament Hill will be lowered to half mast, along with a ceremony at 12:30 pm and a minute of silence.
A statement from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety notes “it is as much a day to remember the dead as it is a call to protect the living.”