One death is too many
"Mourn for the dead, fight for the living"
Even one workplace death is too many. Every April 28 since 1983, unions, workers, and organizations in over 100 countries remember workers who died from workplace causes and honour them by renewing the fight for the living.
While Ontario may still be tabulating and releasing fatality figures for 2010, even one death is too many. In 2009 following the Day of Mourning the WSIB released a statement to provide “context” for statistics used in various Day of Mourning notices and media reports. According to the WSIB, “comments and statistics were reported without context or explanation in stories published in newspapers and on various websites.” OPSEU believes that, lacking context or not, the only acceptable number is zero. So this year, rather than quoting numbers in Ontario, OPSEU maintains that even one worker death is too many.
We do know that federal statistics show an average of 889 deaths each year across the country in the seventeen year period from 1993-2009. Regardless of Ontario’s share—it is too many. We know that all 889 people left for work and never came home. Work shouldn’t be fatal or toxic—but it is. OPSEU has over 130,000 members who leave from home and go to work each day. OPSEU members work in every sector and face every kind of hazard imaginable. OPSEU has lost many brothers and sisters to unsafe and unhealthy workplaces.
OPSEU remembers that on November 18, 2010, during a training exercise, a Seneca aircraft went down, taking the lives of two flight program students and their flight instructor, an OPSEU faculty member in our Local 560. We send our heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the three Senecans who lost their lives.
We use this day—the National Day of Mourning—to re-dedicate our efforts to achieve healthier and safer workplaces, to seek justice for those Senecans and all other lost and injured workers. We do this by securing our hard-won rights and repeating our calls for tougher enforcement of health and safety laws; creation and adoption of ergonomic regulations and standards for legally mandated training; and a province-wide strategy to address an epidemic of occupational disease.
We also continue to work towards implementation of the Expert Panel Recommendations from the 2010 report by Tony Dean, Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety that the government undertook after the tragedy in 2009 that resulted in four scaffolding deaths and one severe, permanent injury. The report shows the need to protect workers from reprisals for exerting health and safety rights. It illustrated the need to increase powers to joint health and safety committees to prevent workplace injuries, fatalities and incidents of occupational disease. It also identified the need for a new Chief Prevention Officer (and interim council) whose mandate is to ensure that all worksites operate in compliance with the OHSA.
A simultaneous review led by Harry Arthur is ongoing to examine Ontario’s WSIB system to ensure fairness for injured workers. OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas wrote to the government on March 21 to urge that this review be expanded to include coverage issues for Ontario workers. It is a travesty that only about 70 percent of workplaces are covered by Ontario’s compensation system. According to Thomas, “that more than one in three Ontario workers is not covered is fundamentally unjust.” We await the outcome and recommendations of this review to see whether our recommendations have been heeded and what action we will need to take to ensure that this review will actually result in protection and justice for injured workers.
OPSEU urges all locals to mark April 28 as the National Day of Mourning, to remember workers who have died, and to renew the fight for the living. Visit the Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) website below to view Day of Mourning events across Ontario.