By Robert Washburn
A few individuals will solemnly gather at Lucas Point Park, behind the Belden plant, on Willmott Street in Cobourg, on April 28 at 4:15 p.m., holding a ceremony to honour those who were injured or died where they work.
Some workplaces will take a moment of silence. But for most of us, it will just be another Monday.
The event, called the National Day of Mourning, is meant to remember lives lost in the workplace and to inspire us to prevent further tragedies.
If it like most days, on average, three people will die at their place of work on this day.
The most recent statistics show there were 977 workplace deaths in 2012 in Canada. It is an increase from 919 the previous year. It is hard to believe things have been getting worse over the past 20 years. Back in 1993, there were 758 deaths. The number peaked in 2010 with 1,014. Again, over the 20-year period, 18,039 people lost their lives due to work-related causes. And, this is nothing compared to the nearly 250,000 who were injured in 2012.
Nobody goes to work thinking they are going to die. Certainly, there are those who put their lives at risk each day for our safety, like police officers and firefighters, among others. Yet, for those of us with regular jobs, it is not what we expect.
The National Day of Mourning was launched in 1984 by the Canadian Labour Congress to “mourn for the dead and fight for the living.” Then, in 1991, the Canadian federal government passed legislation making it a national day. Since then, it has become an international day called World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
Labour Day in September is the most recognized mainly because it marks the end of summer and the beginning of the school year, not because people wish to acknowledge the place of working people in society.
At a time when unions are under ever-increasing pressure from politicians and business, working people are often demonized or demeaned. It is so easy to forget most of us work for someone. We are all in the same boat, especially when it comes to being injured or killed on the job.
It is also hard to get our heads around workplace injuries since so many of us work in the retail and service sectors or hold jobs in offices, as compared to people who work on construction sites or in manufacturing plants. For those in industrialized settings it is easier to understand some of the hazards.
And, when someone dies, they leave behind family and friends – people who are often forgotten.
Still, it should not be beyond our imagination to recognize the importance of safety and health. Whether it is painful, sometimes debilitating, repetitive strain injuries or unsafe scaffolding injury or death in the workplace is very real.
But there is not just the human side. In 2008, which is the most recent statistical data, it cost more than $2 billion for Worker Compensation Boards to pay injured workers. And, it is estimated it cost the Canadian economy more than $19 billion.
It only takes a moment. Stop. Think. Remember.
First published: April 23, 2014