Safety is not an intellectual exercise to keep us in work. It is a matter of life and death. It is the sum of our contributions to safety management that determines whether the people we work with live or die.
-Sir Brian Appleton
Today, April 28th, is the official “Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace”. Today we recognize and remember all workers who have lost their lives in the workplace. Today is a reminder of the ultimate cost unsafe working conditions can have on the workers, namely death.
This day of remembrance was officially recognized through legislation in 1991, but was recognized by workers years before this development. Today more than 80 countries around the world recognize April 28th as a workers mourning day.
This recognition of the need for remembrance is ostensibly a promising sign, but we must be careful not to let this recognition fool us into thinking that worker safety has been achieved.
With the unwavering support of workers, occupational health and safety standards, legislation and supporting regulations have been enacted and amended over the years. No doubt these legislative protections have saved workers and their loved ones from untold tragedy and hardship. But have these protections been enough? The obvious answer to this question, is “no”. We still have a long way to go.
In 2012 there were 977 workplace deaths in Canada. This, sadly, represents a 6% increase from the number of workplace deaths in 2011. Even more startling is the figure for the last 20 years - From 1993 to 2013, 18,039 Canadians died from workplace accidents. As massive as that number is, it pales in comparison to the number of workplace injuries. In 2012, Canada saw a staggering 245,365 workplace injuries that were severe enough to force workers out of their employment positions. Clearly, change is needed.
So what can be done? One change for the better would be to make legislative changes that would allow for the OHSA to cover all workers. At present, it is often touted that the OHSA covers almost all workers. Almost, however, is not all. And only all is good enough when it comes to worker safety. Additionally, the WSIB must be made to extend mandatory coverage to all workplaces. Thousands of Ontario workers are not covered by the WSIB!
In addition to these legislative changes, there is a positive obligation for employers and unions to make certain that their members and representatives on joint health and safety committees have the appropriate time, training and financial wherewithal to execute their duties under the OHSA.
Finally, we must insist that the Ministry of Labour does its job and enforces the OHSA. Changes in funding and the reduction of enforcement officers is an issue that is also woefully ripe for correction. In addition, employers must be made to comply with OHSA requirements to allow worker representatives to inspect the entire workplace every month. This move alone could put a sizable dent in the terrible workplace injury and fatality figures in Ontario and throughout the country.
These are just a few suggestions to enhance worker health and safety. We should all take some time today to remember the fallen and injured workers both at home and abroad and continue to strive to make our workplaces safe. Because the struggle will not be at an end until the fatality rate is zero.