Held on April 28, the National Day of Mourning in Canada is a day dedicated to remembering those who have lost their lives or suffered injury or illness on the job or due to a work-related injury. It’s also, importantly, a time to renew our work toward improving health and safety in the workplace while also preventing more deaths, injuries and illnesses.
According to official numbers from Canada’s worker compensation agencies, close to 1,000 Canadians die each year because of their jobs. However, studies reveal that this number is really only a small fraction when it comes to the reality of work-related deaths in the country.
Why is that?
The official numbers, which are taken from the Association of Workers' Compensation Board of Canada (AWCBC), only take into account approved compensation claims. This means that thousands of deaths, including those from workers exempt from coverage, occupational disease, or stress-induced suicides, as well as domestic violence, are missing from the stats. Even the latest AWCBC figures show that in Ontario alone, 24% of the approximate 7.1 million working Ontarians are not covered by the public workers’ compensation regime.
A recent study estimates that the number of Canadians that die each year due to the workplace is more like 10,000-13,000. That’s a huge increase from official numbers.
While many people understand that the issue of workplace injuries and deaths is an important topic, it’s also time we acknowledge that it’s much larger and more widespread than most realize.
Violence and Health Care
Certain professions are affected by workplace injuries and violence much more than other sectors. Take health care, for instance. In Ontario, the health care sector makes up close to 12% of the labour market, and it’s also the largest one impacted by violence in the workplace. In a recent poll of 2,000 Ontario health-care workers, 68% of hospital staff in Ontario say they have been victims of physical violence at work in the past year, 42% reported sexual harassment or assault, and 20% say they have been the victims of nine or more violence incidents in the past year. These statistics are both startling and unacceptable.
Violence in the workplace, and violence against our health care workers, impacts us all. It affects the workers, their families, and our communities. What does this mean?
It means we need to make change to help prevent violence:
- More support for prevention
- Greater steps to make workplaces safer
- Increased support and response system for dealing with incidents of violence
- Attitude changes and knowledge
No one should ever have to accept violence in the workplace as a normal part of their job and no one should ever feel they cannot bring these incidents forward to their supervisor or organization head.
How do we make change?
Change begins with all of us. It begins with increasing the education surrounding violence in the workplace. It means improving the safety of workplaces. It includes improving reporting and support systems to ensure that every single person feels safe and comfortable coming forward with incidents of workplace injuries, violence, or illness. It also means, in many cases, that we hold companies accountable when they are responsible or could have prevented illness, injuries, or tragically, death.
A CBC News investigation found that only a very small number of people across Canada have ever been jailed for violating workplace safety laws in connection with the death of a worker. The longest term was 120 days. While some financial fines have been hefty, most are minimal. Perhaps one of the most disappointing parts is that in many cases, there is no inquiry or follow-up done, meaning we cannot look to what went wrong, how we can do better, or how laws and regulations must change.
A strong example of this is the tragic death of a young university student from London, Ontario - Jeremy Bowley. After Jeremey’s death, the company where he worked was found to be responsible for his death and charged $100,000. His mother said she would rather see both the provincial and federal governments do something to help prevent these terrible types of accidents. She strongly believes that along with educating companies on how to prevent workplace deaths in the first place, there should also be mandatory education and training to educate workers and secondary school students on workplace safety and dangers. Oftentimes, we believe employers know best and assume that the proper safety protocols have been followed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. A province or country-wide education program for workers will undeniably increase the understanding of potential dangers and worker rights, and has the potential to go a long way in preventing future workplace injuries and deaths. As Jeremey’s mom says,
“If we're having two to three people in Canada die every single day and most of these situations are preventable, then why is this happening? It doesn't make sense that we have that many people dying and there isn't something happening."
On this year’s National Day of Mourning, we will take the time to remember and honour those who have been injured or killed either on the job or a result of the workplace. We will also support any moves to increase safety and education surrounding this issue as well as violence against workers in Canada. Lastly, we will continue to strive for change through education and training on the many vast issues in this area.