After a two-year hiatus from hosting the National Day of Mourning ceremony in Trail, United Steelworkers Local 480 will gather again, today, to publicly “Mourn for the dead, fight for the living.”
Members will leave the Local 480 hall at 3:45 p.m., march down Bay Avenue to the Workers Memorial Monument, and begin the ceremony at 4 p.m.
All are welcome to attend. The union asks guests to stay on the grassy area in front of the monument and leave sidewalks clear for passersby.
WorkSafeBC accepted the highest number of workplace death claims in seven years in 2021, as exposure to disease-causing materials continues to drive fatalities.
The workplace compensation company is holding off until the Day of Mourning Thursday (April 28) to release its full range of 2021 statistics, but has revealed that 161 B.C. residents died from a workplace injury or disease last year. That’s up from 151 in 2020 and 140 in 2019.
Of those in 2021, 99 deaths were due to disease, and 62 were due to traumatic injuries.
Al Johnson, WorkSafeBC’s head of prevention services, said disease – particularly asbestos exposure – has been the leading causing of death since about 2007.
From 2007 to 2020, 831 people died of asbestos exposure, ranging between 46 and 76 fatalities a year. By comparison, 301 people died of a motor vehicle incident in the workplace during the same period.
Fortunately, Johnson said, asbestos is no longer allowed to be used as a building material. People dying from it now were likely exposed 10 to 30 years ago, he said. In the coming years, there should be fewer related deaths.
In February, B.C. announced it is moving to make licensing and training mandatory for asbestos removal contractors and workers.
Reducing other types of fatalities will require on the ground action too, Johnson said. The Day of Mourning is an opportunity for employers and employees to refocus on what should be the priority of their workplace: safety.
“It goes beyond a rule book to an actual culture,” Johnson said. Employees need to feel like their safety is more important than pumping out product or turning a profit.
Johnson said workplace’s reactions to COVID-19 is a perfect example of what can be done when employers decide to take action.
He asked that they take a moment on the Day of Mourning to remember those who were lost in 2021, and consider how they can prevent future deaths in their workplaces.