Why the CN tower will be yellow tonight

Each year more Ontarians lose their lives through their job than by criminal homicide.

It’s a sobering thought.

In 2012 the WSIB reported 254 workplace-related fatalities and more than 140,000 injuries in Ontario. Of those 254 deaths, 64 were traumatic fatalities. By contrast, in Ontario there were 161 deaths by homicide in 2011.

Today is the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured on the job.

Healthcare is responsible for the second highest percentage (16.9%) of allowed lost time claims among 16 sectors classified by the WSIB. Manufacturing, which has twice as many people covered under WSIB, has a lower rate of lost time claims. Much of these health care injuries are strains and sprains from what are defined as “assisting occupations.” The typical injury within health care is from overexertion experienced by a woman between the ages of 50-54.

While our sector is not known for occupation-related deaths, in 2013 four members of an Ornge air ambulance crew were tragically killed when their Sikorsky helicopter crashed in Northern Ontario. The WSIB notes that transportation-related events are the leading cause of traumatic fatalities.

Asbestos-related diseases still top the list of occupational-related deaths, followed by lung cancer.

Held in 80 countries around the world, the day of mourning has Canadian beginnings. Started by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984, it became officially recognized by our federal government in 1991. The name of the day may be slightly different depending on the jurisdiction – the International Labour Organization, for example, calls April 28 World Day for Safety and Health At Work.

Its beginnings in Canada may owe to our own terrible track record on workplace safety. In 2005 we ranked fifth highest in workplace fatalities among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The CLC notes that police are not enforcing corporate criminal negligence laws introduced federally in 2004 through Bill C-45. Last year the CLC reported that charges have been laid only six times under the Act despite about 1,000 workplace deaths each year in Canada.

We’ve also previously noted inconsistencies in how the Ontario Ministry of Labour has dealt with injuries related to workplace violence.

While the fatalities do include workplace-related occupational diseases, the numbers don’t necessarily count all – as many as 16 per cent of cancers, for example, are estimated to have workplace origins. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 75,500 Canadians will die of cancer in 2013, suggesting the WSIB statistics around fatalities from occupational diseases may be very low.

Unions have played a vital role in making workplaces more safe. This union in recent years has worked with its allies in pushing Ontario to make standard safety-engineered sharps, for example. This June we will be holding a summit on workplace violence in mental health to try to find solutions to a rise in related injuries our members are experiencing. In every workplace health and safety reps are doing all they can to keep their colleagues safe.

Tonight at dusk the CN Tower will be lit yellow to commemorate this day.

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