Construction industry marks the Day of Mourning

Workers and employers gathered together on April 28 to remember fallen comrades and strive to prevent further tragedies.

The Day of Mourning, an observation for those who have lost their lives in the workplace, is held across the country. Representatives from British Columbia’s government, business and labour communities gathered at Jack Poole Plaza in downtown Vancouver along with the families of lost workers to pay tribute to the fallen.

“This day means different things for different people. For people who have lost someone due to a tragic workplace accident, there’s anger and horrific memories, but at the same time there’s fond remembrances for them,” said WorkSafeBC vice-president of prevention services Al Johnson.

“At the same time, it’s a chance for our officers to reaffirm the work that we do at WorkSafeBC and say ‘we can do more.’ For the union and labour people here, they want more to be done and they’re taking action to get more done. For many of the employers, they think ‘we’re doing something, but we could always do more.”

Some of those assembled noticed a shift in attitude from previous ceremonies, with more of an emphasis on employer responsibilities to ensure a safe workplace for their employees.

“In previous years, if you’ve listened to the message, often the workers have been saying ‘it was my fault,’ and that was not the message today,” WorkSafeBC board member and BC Insulators business manager Lee Loftus said. “Today the message was ‘I have a right, I have to exercise that right, the employer has an obligation and has to make sure it’s met.’ It was a very different message and I appreciated that.”

Loftus added he thought B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains has made changes by insisting in his mandate to WorkSafeBC that the province becomes the safest jurisdiction in Canada.

“I think that’s had an impact. My involvement with the WorkSafeBC board of directors has seen a shift in a short period of time and the conversation has moved away from protecting the accident fund and the monies associated with that, to putting programs in place to address workplace safety matters,” he said.

While Loftus approved in the changes in attitude, he cautioned more needs to be done to ensure worker safety.

“As I listen to all the stories today, the numbers haven’t changed and that’s sad, but what does it mean? Does it mean we’re not doing enough? I think that’s the case. We need to work harder, better, smarter and safer and we need to make certain we have the right to challenge production over safety, and hopefully we can get there,” Loftus said.

Johnson agreed more needs to be done by all stakeholders.

“The message is clear; it’s a shared responsibility for health and safety. There’s opportunity there for employers to really embrace their responsibilities to provide those healthy and safe workplaces,” he said.

WorkSafeBC is releasing a series of radio ads to raise awareness of workplace safety as a shared duty, Johnson added.

“It’s about reminding everybody about responsibility, accountability and their obligation not only to rules and regulations but to provide safe workplaces, work safely and remind co-workers and workers at large to do so,” he said.

In the past year, according to WorkSafeBC, 158 workers died and over half of those deaths were due to occupational exposure to materials such as asbestos. The rest of the deaths were due to traumatic injury. The B.C. construction industry had 51 deaths in the last year, the highest number of the industries surveyed.