Saturday, April 28, 2007

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 . 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.
For other resources on workplace health, injuries and deaths see the following:
Life Quilt (a quilt project honouring young workers killed on the job)
And, of course, go to Le Revue Gauche for megablogger Eugene Plawiuk's take on this Worker Memorial Day with lots more info than Molly has presented here.
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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