With two local industrial deaths in recent months still fresh on the minds of many in attendance, the 2017 Greater Sudbury Day of Mourning ceremonies on Friday took on a sombre mood. Despite that dark cloud, several speakers said educating the next generation of workers is crucial to maintain all of the workplace safety gains that were won over the years.
“Occupational health and safety activists, if you go in to a workplace and clean it up, 90 per cent of the time, the next person who goes in doesn’t know you did it,” United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard, a Greater Sudbury native, told more than 300 people gathered in Laurentian University’s Fraser auditorium. “The world would be a much different place if it wasn’t for people like Janice (Martell-project founder of the McIntyre Powder Project, who spoke earlier) and you.
The work you do saves lives. We have made the workplace better, but as France (Gelinas, Nickel Belt New Democrat MPP) says, we haven’t made them safer. We have an obligation, those of us in the workplace, to pass on our skills and education and core values for a safer workplace, to pass that on to the next generation. The best way to do that is educate them before they enter the workforce.”
Gerard was one of more than half a dozen speakers who participated in the hour-long ceremony, which was followed by the lowering of flags in the university’s main square nearby.
Started in Greater Sudbury 33 years ago, the annual Day of Mourning, which aims to raise awareness about workplace deaths and injuries as well as workplace disease, has grown in scope and is now observed in more than 80 countries.
The two workplace deaths that have occurred in the city in recent months involved Rheal Dionne, 39, a trucker at Rainbow Concrete who died Feb. 15 when he was driving under an entrance arch and a piece of the arch dislodged and crushed his cab; and Ronnie Lepage, 59, a trucker employed with contractor Cecchetto and Sons, who was on Vale property when he was pinned under a dump truck April 6 and later died in hospital of his injuries.
Gelinas said it is distressing to think that when the Day of Mourning first started, some 1,000 Canadian workers were killed on the job each year, but the number has never come down.
“Fast forward 33 years, there is an average 1,000 who are killed at work each and every year,” she said. “We know 90 per cent of workplace deaths are preventable. So, how do we prevent those “¦ Canadian workers from dying at work?”
Gelinas said she is heartened that the province now makes it mandatory that flags across Ontario are flown at half-mast on the annual Day of Mourning after passing a private member’s bill by fellow New Democrat MPP Percy Hatfield of Windsor-Tecumseh. She said the day must not just be talked about each year, but seen as well.
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