National Day of Mourning – Know your Rights; Use the Tools; Defend our Wins

Today, April 28th,  is the National Day of Mourning, a day to commemorate those who have died, been injured or made sick as a result of their job. This year’s theme “Know your rights; Use the tools; Defend our wins,” is aimed at supporting and empowering workers to actively participate in workplace health and safety.

One workplace death is already too many. Workers deserve to arrive home safely at the end of their workday and to live a life free from workplace injuries and disease. Employers are responsible for upholding health and safety laws and regulations in the workplace. This includes providing necessary equipment and training. Workers have won the rights to know about hazards in their work, to participate in decisions that affect their health and safety, and to refuse unsafe work if necessary.

Won through hard work and advocacy, current health and safety law represents forty plus years of work and the battles to maintain these rights. Every worker must know if they see unsafe work, how to refuse unsafe work, and how to report such situations. In addition, workers must understand the power of their voice and how to use it to help prevent unsafe work before someone is harmed.

Workplace fatalities continue at alarming rates in all jurisdictions in Canada. In 2021 there were 1 081 accepted workplace fatalities, and 277 217 accepted lost time claims across Canada. This is tragically a rise in cases from the previous year. Illness and disease due to exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace numbers in the hundreds of thousands each year and many of these end up as fatalities. A vast number of these deaths take place years after exposure.

In Canada, employers are responsible to ensure a safe workplace, and that means investing in proven prevention tools. Unfortunately, some employers have not taken this responsibility seriously enough, putting workers in harm’s way. Governments and law enforcement must enforce health and safety requirements, and hold employers accountable when they fail to protect workers. Workers and unions will keep fighting for better enforcement of existing occupational health and safety legislation, and the Westray Law sections of the Criminal Code of Canada. We must also continue to push employers to invest in proven prevention tools. Most powerful of these tools will be empowered, well-trained workers and joint health and safety committees.

Canada’s unions are committed to empowering workers to continue fighting for better workplace protections. This starts with knowing your rights, applying and defending them, and continuing to advocate for the better.

Every worker deserves to come home safely at the end of the workday. The nature of work and workplaces have changed drastically in recent years, and workers must be

supported in adapting to their changing environments. Canada’s unions support workers in creating a culture of safety and prevention, and demanding that employers and governments respect their own duty to create safe workplaces and environments.

Calling out unsafe work is part of a culture of safety and prevention, and is encouraged by employers investing in the best interests of employees. Additionally, ensuring that timely reporting of injuries and exposures to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) takes place is the employer’s responsibility, but in the absence of employer compliance, workers need to ensure notification take place.

All of this builds a system where occupational health and safety is managed and executed so that fatalities, injuries, and exposures resulting in illness decrease, and each Day of Mourning passes with fewer and fewer families and co-workers traumatized by death in the workplace.

The Grey Bruce Labour Council has been the voice of Labour in Grey and Bruce since 1956