Monday, April 28, 2008

April 28: Day of Mourning

So, OK, who died on this day. Or rather whose deaths are we mourning? We are mourning your co-workers who died on the job, or died from injuries on the job or died from diseases contracted on the job. In Canada, this day is recognized by Parliament. Not sure about the good ol' U.S. of A. We tend to treat workers here as disposable commodities.

Not that Canada is really any better; they just tend to 'fess up to their errors more than we do. I mention Canada, also, because I worked there for a lot of winters (other seasons too, but winters tend to stand out). I was trained by my union in Occupational Health and Safety, taught the same to many workers and managers, and helped run our in-plant safety committee. I learned a lot of things and facts about the subject, but what always stuck in my gut was the fact that in Ontario workers who died on the job averaged one per working day for years.

Think about it. Over 250 folk lost their lives each year just by showing up for work. Now Ontario has some rather dangerous occupations such as mining, construction, forestry, police and fire work. Farmers didn't get counted as dying on the job unless they were enrolled as employees. Lots of farm folk lost family members each year. One was my neighbor. I should remind you that Ontario only has about 5 million people who live there. Was it a dangerous place to work? No. The numbers were considered a cost of doing business by all except those who were affected by a death.

We heard a lot about carelessness, and were they wearing their safety equipment. But they died, and their workplace was unsafe. We tried to change the attitude of workers by educating them in safety procedures, staying alert, and asking questions. In 1972, Ontario passed some rather remarkable health and safety legislation that gave workers the right to refuse unsafe work, the right to participate in company health and safety programs, and the right to information about any perceived hazards including chemicals.

I started instructing workers about health and safety through unions and community colleges in 1988. We informed them of their rights; they learned how to check their workplace for hazards; how to negotiate better and safer working conditions; and how to identify hazardous agents, among other things.

Sometimes I think we didn't make a damn bit of difference. The yearly death toll stood at one per working day year-in and year-out. Through some really tough economic times and through some times (not many) of relative full employment folk were still getting killed by going to work. I see that it hasn't changed that much now. We managed to change a few workplaces for the better, former students told me, but still death and injuries happen.

So take the time to remember those who died before you in their place of work. Perhaps some changes have been made for the better because of their sacrifice.

This post is late in coming. I have a job and am trying to stay alive, although my only danger is the interstate getting to and from the workplace. Have I told you about sick workplaces, yet? That's for another year, another April 28.

BRB is Write (and used to know a lot more about this stuff)


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