Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Today was the International Workers' Memorial Day, a national day in many countries worldwide set aside to remember workers killed or injured on the job, including those affected by workplace induced illness. The facts themselves are startling enough. Each year over two million workers die of workplace injuries and illness across the globe. The rate of occupational accidents (270 million per year) and work-related illness (160 million) is even more disturbing (see the Wikipedia article on Workers' Memorial Day). Here in Canada, according to a CBC article, there have been 13,106 people killed in workplace "accidents" from 1993 to 2007. In 2007 alone 972,407 Canadian workers were injured or became ill due to work.

Workers' Memorial Day is actually a Canadian innovation. It was initiated by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in 1984, and the Canadian Labour Congress declared the day to be official in 1985. The US government recognized the day in 1989, and the Canadian government followed suit in 1991.

Here in Winnipeg this year's events were distinctly low key, and mostly in commemoration of the 61 Winnipeg City employees who have been killed on the job since 1978. Here's the story from the CBC article mentioned above.
Firefighters remembered during Manitoba's day of mourning:

CBC News
The names of three Winnipeg firefighters were added to the list of workers killed on the job, as the annual National Day of Mourning was commemorated Tuesday in the courtyard at city hall.

Leslie Helman, Alfred McDonald and Fred Roy died of work-related illness in the past year.

"These workers are not statistics. They are parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends and neighbours," Manitoba Labour Minister Nancy Allan said to the crowd. "Their loss and the loss felt by their families, their colleagues and their communities lingers."

The National Day of Mourning, held annually on April 28, was officially recognized by the federal government in 1991 — eight years after the day of remembrance was launched by the Canadian Labour Congress.

The national event to remember workers who were injured or died on the job, or who died from a work-related illness, is now marked in more than 100 countries.

In Winnipeg, Tuesday morning's commemoration was the start of a full day of observances.

Worksite ceremonies are also being held at city facilities at 1155/1199 Pacific Avenue, 1220 Pacific Avenue, 598 Plinquet Street, and at the Millennium Library.

Sixty-one city employees have died of work-related causes since 1978.

"As public servants, it's our mission to serve citizens well, to do so safely, and return home safely to the ones we love," said City of Winnipeg chief administrative officer Glen Laubenstein.
Political and labour leaders will also gather at 11:55 a.m. at the Union Centre, 275 Broadway Ave., and then walk to the Manitoba legislature.

A news conference with Allan will be held at 12:15 p.m. in front of the grand staircase at the legislative building.

The event is organized by SAFE Workers of Tomorrow, a local organization dedicated to promoting workplace health and safety among young workers.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, in the 15-year period from 1993 to 2007, there were 13,106 people who lost their lives due to work-related causes.
In 2007 alone, 1,055 workplace deaths were recorded in Canada — an increase of 976 from the previous year. Another 972,407 were injured or become ill.

Data from 2007 is the most recently available.
Of course Winnipeg, not being the centre of the universe, was hardly the only place where the day was commemorated. The website of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union has a fine list of where there were events in Canada, and Hazards Magazine has a more general list of events worldwide. Down in the States there is also a fine new site, the United Support & memorial for Workplace Fatalities that I have mentioned before on this blog. Speaking of "mentioned before" it seems that i have written quite frequently on the subject of WMD over the years. Three times in 2009-Feb 27, March 7 and April 26. Three time in 2008-April 12 and two articles on April 28, and once in 2007-April 28. That first one is still my favourite. Here's what Molly said about this day two years ago.
Today, April 28th is international Workers' Memorial Day. This is a day set aside each year to remember workers killed or injured on the job and to demand changes that will prevent such occurrences in the future. This day is one of Canada's lesser known contributions to the world.
Workers' Memorial Day was first promoted by CUPE and other Canadian unions in 1984 following the deaths of four miners in Sudbury. The Canadian Labour Congress declared an annual day of remembrance in 1985 on April 28th, which is the anniversary of the first Workers' Compensation Act proclaimed in 1919. The Americans followed in 1989 with credit being given to the fact that April 28th is also the anniversary of the establishment of OSHA. The Canadian Parliament passed an act recognizing this day in 1991.
The campaign spread to the UK in 1992 where it was adopted by the TUC in 1999.
Meanwhile the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions began to observe the day in 1996, and in 2002 the International Labour Organization(ILO) announced that Workers' Memorial Day was to be an official event in the United Nations system. Today the day is observed worldwide as an "official" day in many countries while in others the union movement is pursuing recognition.

The ILO estimates that two million people die per year of work related accidents and diseases and that, every year, there are 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million incidents of work related illnesses. Work actually kills more people in the modern world than wars do. In the USA 5,734 workers were killed and 4.2 million people were injured at work in 2005. The Canadian statistics are available at http://awcbc.org/english/NWISP_stats.asp . The situation is grimmer in Canada than in the USA in terms of fatalities which were at 1,097 in 2005. On a per capita basis workers are killed almost twice as frequently in Canada as in the US. This number has been steadily increasing in the last decade. The number of workplace injuries, however, has been steadily declining since it peaked in 1989, and in 2005 337,930 Canadian workers had suffered "compensatible injuries".

Hazards magazine maintains a website devoted to WMD with links to events worldwide. Together with the Labour Start online union solidarity site Hazards has initiated the Health and Safety Newswire. See this for more information.

Finally, there is a petition at the Canadian Injured Workers Society calling on the Canadian federal government to hold a federal public judicial inquiry into wrongdoing by workers compensation boards across the country. Go here to view the petition or to sign it.
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