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.

References

[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]     Ccohs.ca, “National Day of Mourning – April 28”, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.ccohs.ca/events/mourning/. [Accessed: 05- Jan- 2016].

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