Machinery Safety 101

Canada’s National Day of Mourning

Fight for the Living, Mourn for the Dead

On April 28th, we mourn for our work­place dead.

Black and white image of a man and a boy standing in a narrow aisle between ranks of machines in a UK textile mill in 1903. Source: UK National Archives.
UK Tex­tile work­ers in 1903. Source: UK Nation­al Archives

Canada’s earli­est work­place safety legis­la­tion came into being when Ontari­o’s Fact­ory Act was passed in 1884. The Ontario legis­la­tion was mod­elled on Bri­tain’s Fact­ory Acts to improve con­di­tions in tex­tile mills by lim­it­ing the work­ing hours for chil­dren and women and pre­vent­ing chil­dren young­er than nine from being employed in the mills. Unfor­tu­nately, the Ontario Factor­ies Act proved unen­force­able for many reas­ons and did little to pro­tect work­ers. Chil­dren con­tin­ued to work in mills and factor­ies more than 70 years after the laws were applied to all factories.

The Tri­angle Shirt­waist Fact­ory Fire in New York City in 1911 was the impetus for the first US work­place safety law. 146 people died in that fire, most of them women and many also recent immig­rants, just try­ing to provide for their fam­il­ies. Work­ers were trapped by locked doors. Many fell from an inad­equate fire escape, or suf­foc­ated from the smoke. The fire depart­ment’s lad­ders were too short to reach the upper stor­ies of the build­ing where the fire raged.

Turn of the cen­tury fact­ory. Source: Google Digit­al Archives
Workers head to jobs
Each day expecting safety there 
Only to die. Why?

D. Nix, 2014
source: Ontario Fed­er­a­tion of Labour

Today, the jour­ney to safer work­places con­tin­ues. The pan­dem­ic con­tin­ues to rage around us, work­ers des­ig­nated as essen­tial can­’t get vac­cin­ated, yet are expec­ted to go to work every day. Pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments con­tin­ue to deny paid sick days to work­ers, send­ing inspect­ors instead to large workplaces. 

Hos­pit­als and health­care work­ers are strained bey­ond break­ing, field hos­pit­als sprout­ing in park­ing lots. So many more will be sickened and some will die.

Our Pro­vin­cial lead­er­ship has failed, the evid­ence on the front page of the news, the num­bers soar­ing ever higher.

137 years after the pas­sage of the Ontario Factor­ies Act, the need to fight for the liv­ing has nev­er been great­er. The pan­dem­ic put a spot­light on the inequit­ies that are woven-in to our social fab­ric, clearly show­ing the sys­tem­ic prob­lems that exist. Reform is needed to pro­tect vul­ner­able workers.

April 28 is Canada’s Nation­al Day of Mourn­ing for work­ers killed and injured on the job. In the past, Canada has imple­men­ted many work­place safety innov­a­tions, yet each year, nearly 1000 moth­ers, fath­ers, sis­ters, broth­ers, aunts, uncles, daugh­ters, and sons die at work.

The Nation­al Day of Mourn­ing was recog­nized by the Cana­dian Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment in 1991 and is now recog­nized in more than 80 countries.

Take the time today to mourn those killed at work, and then take action to reduce the risks to your employ­ees and your co-work­ers. The life you save might just be your own.

For more inform­a­tion on Canada’s Nation­al Day of Mourn­ing, vis­it the Cana­dian Centre for Occu­pa­tion­al Health and Safety.

This day is also observed in the European Uni­on. See Work­ers’ Memori­al Day on the EU-OSHA web site.

See CBC News’ art­icle, “Work­place Safety by the Num­bers”, for a look at how many are injured each year, and what sec­tors are the most dan­ger­ous places to work.

See Dorothy Wig­more’s art­icle on the His­tory of April 28.

See the Ontario Min­istry of Labour State­ment on April 28th.


[1]     D. Wig­more. “The His­tory Behind April 28th”. Occu­pa­tion­al Health and Safety Sec­tion News­let­ter, Spring 2010. Amer­ic­an Pub­lic Health Asso­ci­ation (APHA).

[2]     E. Thomas, Dead But Not For­got­ten: Monu­ments to Work­ers. Ed Thomas, 2001.

[3], “Nation­al Day of Mourn­ing – April 28”, 2015. [Online]. Avail­able: [Accessed: 05- Jan– 2016].

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