About 40 people marched through downtown Trail in the annual Day of Mourning ceremony

About 40 people marched through downtown Trail in the annual Day of Mourning ceremony

Day of Mourning a sombre reminder

Residents marched down Bay Avenue Thursday in recognition of the National Day of Mourning, remembering workers who lost their lives to workplace injury or disease in 2010.

Last year, 143 people were killed in a work-related deaths in B.C., 75 of which were due to an occupational disease, with the majority asbestos-related.

The “silent killer” is the No. 1 occupational killer in B.C., according to the Workers’ Compensation Board, and is quite prevalent in Trail.

“The problem is because we all worked with (asbestos) 25 or 30 years ago, all these cases are just starting to pop up now,” said Gord Menelaws, health and safety chair for Local 480, which plans the annual Day of Mourning ceremony in Trail.

“I mean, there was nothing for the longest time and now 25 to 30 years later – that’s the latency period – there’s a lot of cases in town.”

Local 480, which represents Teck’s unionized workers, continues to push for change around disability compensation. While there had previously been no age limit in place since the government changed the legislation in 2002, anyone over the age of 65 who gets sick doesn’t receive disability pay.

But the annual event, in its 27th year running, is about remembering everybody – whether it’s those who died from an industrial disease or whether they were killed in an accident on their way to work.

“Sometimes we just get really caught up in our everyday business of health and safety and forget to actually sit down and make time to remember those who gave their life,” said Menelaws. “I mean, they went out in the morning to do a day’s work and some of them never returned and that’s something that should never happen.”

Piper Gordon Titsworth led residents in the “walk of remembrance” from the Local 480 Hall down to the family statue, where the ceremony kicked off with speeches from individuals like MP Alex Atamanenko and David Mitchell of WorkSafe BC before the floor opened up to residents who wanted to say a few words on behalf of a loved one they were remembering.

Menelaws personally will never forget his involvement in the coroner’s inquest into Teck’s Sullivan mine accident five years ago in Kimberley.

“It was unbelievable to sit there and watch this widow have to listen to the last words (on tape) ever spoken by her husband because he died trying to go in and save somebody else,” he said. “And the words that came over the loud speaker was ‘I’m going in to rescue him.’ And that was it, and you know, I carry that image with me for the rest of my life.”

Though Teck has an extensive safety program, with three full-time and seven part-time health and safety employees, the company and Local 480 are always pushing for improvement.

Teck has about 1,400 employees, with 1,200 belonging to Local 480. The last time a death occurred on site was in 2005, when  a contractor was killed during a lead smelter shutdown.

The Day of Mourning was started in 1984 in Canada and was officially proclaimed as a national event in 1991. Observance has since spread to more than 80 countries as part of World Day for Safety and Health at Work.