An annual commemoration for those who have lost their lives or suffered injury or illness on the job or due to a work-related tragedy, is back to honour the workforce that answers the call of our nationwide building boom. April 28th marks the National Day of Mourning for 2021, and voices from across the industry are uniting for another year to acknowledge the human cost of our nationwide building boom, and what can be done to better prevent workplace fatalities.

The National Day of Mourning dates back to 1984, when the Canadian Labour Congress first proclaimed it, landing on the 70th anniversary of the first Ontario Worker's Compensation Act's approval in 1914. An Act of Parliament passed in 1991 enshrined the date, and Canadian flags on Parliament Hill and Queens Park have flown at half-mast every April 28th since. In over three decades, the annual reflection has encouraged organizations, communities, and individuals to host a (virtual) event or pause for a moment of silence at 11 AM to honour those lost due to workplace accidents.

Toronto skyline, image by Jack Landau

This is no small number, with the most recently available statistics from 2019 from the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) showing a staggering 925 workplace fatalities recorded nationwide, along with 271,806 accepted claims for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease. The number of accepted claims rose dramatically in 2019, and actual numbers in 2019 were likely higher through unreported claims.

Among the voices leading the charge to promote reflection and increased safety in the industry is the Carpenters District Council of Ontario (CDCO), which has taken an active role in raising awareness about workplace safety. Mike Yorke, President of the Carpenters Union District Council Ontario, tells us that "The Day of Mourning in April is a time when we should not only remember and reflect upon the fallen on job sites, but how 'safety first' and the protection of workers is an important role for organized labour." 

Like many industry leaders speaking out to promote awareness, the CDCO takes a personal stake in the Day of Mourning, with Yorke telling us that "organized labour was created as a response to labour exploitation: bad wages and unsafe workplaces. The Day of Mourning is a very important day for those who perished on the job as well as the friends and families that they left behind."

Even now, unions are still having to fight for their workers' health and safety, including those of the new Healthcare Office and Professional Employees Union, or HOPE 2220, also a part of the CDCO. In some cases, these long-term care home frontline workers have had to fight every step of the way with their employers just to secure the necessary PPE required for their on-site safety. Yorke tells us of cases where employers deemed the use of potentially life-saving N95 masks as "extravagant and that use of them need to be monitored and controlled," which resulted in union leaders having to "go before an arbitrator and get the Ontario Labour Board's ruling for our members to get the masks when they need them." In short, even as we honour those lost, more can be done to protect workers.

At 11 AM, please pause for a moment of silence to honour those lost due to workplace accidents.

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