Canada’s National Day of Mourning

Fight for the Living, Mourn for the Dead

On April 28th, Canada’s National Day of Mourning, we mourn for our workplace dead. According to the WSIB, in 2020, 245 people died from a work-related injury or illness in Ontario [1]. Workplace deaths have broad and deep effects on workers’ families, employers, and society. Workplace fatalities are increasing again for a variety of reasons. Declines in unionization and efforts to reduce workers’ rights are the causes behind these increases.

Workplace Fatalities

Ontario 2022 Day of Mourning fatality statistics. A bar chart for the years from 2011 through 2020 showing total traumatic fatalities using combined MoL and WSIB numbers, shown in green, and WSIB allowed occupational disease fatalities in yellow. The yellow bars are considerably shorter than the green ones. In every year except 2019 there are more than 200 fatalities in the province.

Chart: [1]

Early legislation

Canada

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.

USA

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City in 1911 was the impetus for the first US workplace safety law. One hundred forty-six people died in that fire, most women and many 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 short of reaching the upper stories of the building where the fire raged.

Plaster Making Machinery at Johnson & Johnson, 1912. https://www.kilmerhouse.com/2009/01/the-anniversary-of-our-first-building/
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

The journey to safer workplaces

Day of Mourning graphic, Ontario Federation of Labour
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.

138 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 into our social fabric, clearly showing the systemic problems that exist. Reform is needed to protect vulnerable workers.

National Day of Mourning

April 28 is Canada’s National Day of Mourning for workers killed and injured on the job. Canada has implemented many workplace safety innovations in the past, 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 co-workers. The life you save might just be your own.

More information

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 website.

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

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

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


References

[1] “By the Numbers: Schedule 1 – Fatalities – Day of Mourning | WSIB”, wsib.ca, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.wsib.ca/en/bythenumbers/schedule-1-fatalities-day-mourning. [Accessed: 28-Apr-2022].

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

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

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

[5] “WHSC – Day of Mourning”, Workers Health & Safety Centre, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.whsc.on.ca/Events/Day-of-Mourning. [Accessed: 28-Apr-2022].

[6] “National Day of Mourning: Remember and Renew Commitment to Worker Safety”, Canada.ca, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/centre-occupational-health-safety/news/2021/04/national-day-of-mourning-remember-and-renew-commitment-to-worker-safety.html. [Accessed: 28-Apr-2022].

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