Recent events have marked the importance of ensuring the safety of workers in all workplaces. Canada’s National Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace took place on April 28th, while the North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week was held during May 1st to 7th. Both events provide an occasion for workers, unions and management to reflect on the importance of ensuring safety in the workplace, as well as an opportunity to raise public awareness about this critical issue.
NAOSH was first launched in June 1997 through an agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico in the course of North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations. The week is marked by events across Canada and North America that focus on the discussion of workplace safety and the impact of workplace tragedies.
The annual National Day of Mourning commemorates workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace-related hazards and incidents. The day became a national observance in 1990 with the passage of the federal Workers Mourning Day Act. The day is also recognized provincially across the country. The National Day of Mourning is intended to remember those workers who have been killed or injured, and also to renew the commitment to improving workplace safety. This year, Ontario’s Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn noted that Ontario’s annual rate of workplace injuries has dropped by more than 40 per cent over the past 10 years, but that there was still significant work remaining to ensure that workers “return home safe and sound every day”.
The importance of these events cannot be overstated. In 2014, 919 workplace deaths were reported in Canada, an average of 2.5 deaths each day. In addition to the workplace fatalities, 239,643 claims were accepted for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease. These incidents have widespread impact on the workplace, as well as on loved ones, friends and co-workers. If we are to succeed in preventing workplace fatalities and injuries, everyone involved must commit to addressing workplace hazards. In fact, managers and employers have a positive obligation to ensure the safety of workers, and can face serious liability for failing to do so (read more about this in my previous blog post).
As NAOSH events and the National Day of Mourning conclude for 2016, it is important that workers and managers continue the dialogue about safe workplaces and continue to take steps to ensure its realization.