By Geoff Ryan
April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for Workers Injured or Killed on the job. On this day flags on government buildings will fly at half mast, and ceremonies will be held in communities across Canada. Workers will gather at these ceremonies, some will wear black arm bands, some will lay flowers or wreathes, candles will be lit and the names of workers who died due to workplace incidents and illnesses will be read. People will be asked to observe a moment of silence to remember and honour them.
It is important for everyone to attend these events, not only to remember those people who have died, but also to bring awareness that health and safety in the workplace needs to be improved in Canada.
Most people are aware of the dangers in using a power tool, but what about the dangers entering an office building? Did you know that asbestos exposure is the single largest on-the-job killer in Canada accounting for almost one third of all workplace death claims approved since 1996? Asbestos is in products such as brake pads and can also be found in pipes and insulation. Many countries have banned asbestos, but Canada has not. The government also has not cautioned citizens that even low levels of asbestos can be a carcinogenic health risk. There is no national database of buildings containing asbestos in Canada despite requests from unions to create one. Saskatchewan is the only jurisdiction in Canada with such a database. It was created with the passing of Howard’s Law.
The annual observance of the National Day of Mourning strengthens the resolve to establish safe conditions in the workplace, and prevent injuries and deaths. As much as this is a day to remember the dead, it is also a call to protect the living. I encourage everyone to participate in the Day of Mourning ceremony in their area and if there is not a ceremony in your area please consider having a moment of silence in your workplace.
Geoff Ryan is the UNE’s National Vice-President for Human Rights.