During the National Day of Mourning ceremony held at the cenotaph in Williams Lake Saturday, organizer Eric Freeston called out the names of the four mill workers recently killed in Burns Lake and Prince George.
Afterwards he said it is unfortunate that ceremonies to remember those who have died in the workplace have to take place each year because it would be better if there had been no deaths at all.
“But the sad reality is that workplace deaths continue to occur,” Freeston said, adding people working in forestry, mining, and restaurants and even those driving taxis, are subject to injury and it’s necessary to remember people who have lost their lives and pay tribute to their sacrifices on the job.
The National Day of Mourning is observed on April 28 in Canada to commemorate those injured, who have suffered illness or have died due to work-place hazards.
First initiated by the Canadian Union of Public Employees in 1984, the Canadian Labour of Congress picked up on it the following year, and in 1990 it passed third reading at the federal legislation level and became a national day.
Today it is observed in more than 80 countries in the world; however, Freeston said the observance hasn’t reduced the number of deaths. That number has been growing.
“Health and safety laws haven’t necessarily been enforced,” he said.
Cariboo Regional District Area F director Joan Sorley echoed Freeston’s concern, saying it is a shame that the numbers haven’t improved.
In 2011 142 workers died in B.C., in 2010 it was 121 and in 2009 it was 121.
“We’re not getting better and we’re not off to a good start this year. As a society and as people who care we have to do better. All of us, from the top down, from the bottom up, politicians, we have to do better,” Sorley said.
City coun. Surinderpal Rathor, who also works at a local sawmill, thanked Freeston for organizing the event.
“The explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George are very close to my heart. It’s important we remember those colleagues, friends and family that have died in the workplace,” he said, adding it’s important that safety is something all employers and employees need to invest in.
WorkSafe BC occupational officer Leonard Auge said this year’s remembrance is fresh with the sawmill tragedies.
“I want to ensure you that WorkSafe BC, its prevention officers and investigation officers will do everything in their power to find out what happened at these operations to determine what can be done to prevent something like that happening again,” Auge said.
The highest honour fallen workers can be given is a legacy of prevention to make work places safer, Auge added.
Mark Stevens, regional manager from Tolko Industries Ltd., said taking time to remember those who have died from all industries is valuable.
“As an employer it’s our goal to have an accident-free workplace. We continue to strive to achieve that and find new ways to succeed where we haven’t in the past,” Stevens said, adding safety is a number one priority.
United Steelworkers Local 1-425 president Paul French noted that everyone goes to work believing they have the right to come home.
“But it’s up to us to look toward that and make that happen. It’s up to us to report hazards and work toward fixing them. Safety is everybody’s responsibility, not just the managers and the bosses. It’s up to us to train, correct, and look out for each other’s well-being,” French said.
Richard Vollo, regional vice president of the BC Ambulance and Paramedics Association, described some of the workplace incidents he’s attended and the common thread of industrial accidents.
“In my 27 years it’s been a lack of education and improper supervision of young workers. One example I can share is a young fellow that was hired for a company that recycled tires.
“On his first day, his task was to ensure the tires didn’t get stuck in the grinder,” Vollo recalled.
When paramedics arrived on the scene, he was half in and half out of the grinder.
He was told to shut off the machine before he attempted to loosen a tire from the grinder.
“What he wasn’t told was not to use his leg and that the wheels in the grinder continue to turn for at least five minutes before they stop. This young fellow lost his life,” Vollo said, adding it’s difficult because often paramedics see accidents that could have been prevented.
Vollow said mentoring young workers is crucial
“Make sure they know what the safety rules are and how important they are to all of us,” he said.