By Todd Humber
Workers and organizations across Canada are pausing today to remember lives lost and people injured in workplace incidents.
It’s a sombre occasion, and a chance to reflect on the critical work that health and safety professionals do in the quest to ensure every worker goes home safe at the end of the day.
The statistics are tough. The most recent national data from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) show that there were 925 workplace fatalities in Canada in 2019.
A total of 882 of these people were male; and 43 were female.
Tragically, 29 were young workers between the ages of 15 and 24.
Behind each of those numbers is a story. A life lived, a mother, a brother, a father, a friend — and so much more.
While deaths are the most tragic, the injuries take a severe toll. In 2019, there were 271,806 accepted claims — up from 264,438 in 2018.
“The fact that these statistics only include what is reported and accepted by the compensation boards, there is no doubt that the total number of workers impacted is even greater,” the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) notes. “And it’s not just these numbers on which we need to reflect. With each worker tragedy there are loved ones, family members, friends and co-workers who are directly affected, left behind, and deeply impacted – their lives also forever changed.”
The final shift: A video
Ontario poll shows progress
While the death and injury statistics paint a tough picture, there is reason for optimism in some numbers. This morning in Ontario, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) unveiled a new poll that shows more people understand they have a right to refuse unsafe work.
According to a Leger poll, 90 per cent of respondents said they were aware they could, by law, refuse unsafe work. When asked what they would do if they had a safety concern at work, 63 per cent said they would raise it with management.
“As we mark the National Day of Mourning, it is good to see that people are thinking about health and safety in the workplace,” says Jeffery Lang, President and CEO of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). “We can help Ontario businesses to create a safety plan that everyone knows and follows.”
The WSIB also released its most recent numbers from Ontario – showing 319 work-related deaths in 2021, including 86 related to COVID-19.
A special two-minute Day of Mourning commemoration will also be broadcast to over 800,000 Ontarians during the evening newscasts (approx. 6.p.m. EST) on television stations across Ontario including CTV, Global, CITY channels as well as CHCH. It features five Ontarians who have lost loved ones.
“We are doing everything we can to amplify the message that almost every workplace fatality can be prevented and everyone deserves to arrive home safely,” says Lang. “We keep working towards a day when we can report zero workplace fatalities.”
Ceremonies across B.C.
Today, there are more than a dozen ceremonies taking place in-person across British Columbia.
Last year, workplace illnesses and injuries claimed the lives of 161 workers in the province, according to WorkSafeBC.
Ninety-nine workers lost their lives due to occupational disease, with 53 of those deaths caused by exposure to asbestos, often decades ago. In addition, 47 workers were killed as a result of a traumatic workplace injury; 15 workers died from a motor vehicle incident; and 13 workers lost their lives due to COVID-19
“The Day of Mourning is a time to remember that the key to healthy and safe workplaces lies in joint action that involves everyone: employers, workers, supervisors, and other stakeholders,” said Anne Naser, presidenet and CEO, WorkSafeBC. “We all have a role to play, and when we work together to fulfill our responsibilities, we reduce the risk of injury, illness, and death. Workers have the right to a healthy, safe, and respectful workplace, and employers have the responsibility for creating it.”
One of many stories: Mark and Melanie
Shirley Hickman, executive director of Threads of Life, shared the following story via email.
Picture a narrow, twisted trail in a dark woods. Life after a workplace tragedy can be like that sometimes.
Mark and Melanie were best friends as well as newlyweds. Mark was an industrial electrician and had been repairing an electrical panel in a confined area when he fell from the ladder. Mark sustained multiple injuries, including broken vertebrae, skull fractures and brain injury. Mark died four years after his injury. He was 42.
We all experience grief and loss, but Melanie didn’t know anyone who’d been through something like this.
“Grief can be a very lonely and isolating journey,” she says now.
There is comfort in knowing others are walking beside you on that dark, twisting trail. Day of Mourning, April 28, is an annual observance when the broader community joins with those like Melanie who have experienced a tragedy. Together, all of us honour lives lost or changed, and pledge to prevent future tragedies. This year for Day of Mourning, Melanie shared a little of her personal story along with two other family members. These three stories are examples and symbols of all the many losses experienced by all the other families. You can find the videos on our social media channels starting today.
“In the search to find a way to live with my grief and begin to make sense of how this happened to my family I found Threads of Life,” Melanie says. “To be able to share my loss and experiences with people who have lived a similar journey is so invaluable to my healing. My husband will never come home but having the opportunity to share our story makes it feel like our loss means something.”
On Day of Mourning this year, you can walk with those who’ve experienced tragedy. Join our brief online ceremony and candle-lighting service. Light a candle of your own and renew your resolve to work safely. Or make a donation to support Threads of Life programs which help family members like Melanie navigate through those dark woods and toward brighter days.
Editor’s Note: OHS Canada is a proud media sponsor of Threads of Life. Please donate if you’re able.
Day of Mourning: History
The National Day of Mourning was launched by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1983. In 1991, it was recognized by the Parliament of Canada when it passed the Workers Mourning Day Act that made April 28 an official day of mourning.
Today, more than 100 countries around the world recognize the day — often by different names including Workers’ Memorial Day and International Workers’ Memorial Day.
“It is the hope of CCOHS that the annual observance of this day will help strengthen the resolve to establish safe and healthy conditions in the workplace, and prevent further injuries, illnesses, and deaths,” CCOHS said. “As much as this is a day to remember the dead, it is also a call to protect the living and make work a place where people can thrive.”