Nova Scotia commemorates Injured Workers Day

Shunpiking Magazine, Spring, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 48

Injured Workers Day was commemorated in Halifax April 28th as throughout Canada and the world as workers honoured those who have been killed, injured or disabled on the job, renewing their pledge to force governments to enforce the human right to safe and healthy working conditions. Ceremonies were held in over 110 countries, This year, the Canadian Labour Congress chose "Organizing for Healthier and Safer Workplaces" as its theme for the Day of Mourning. The CLC points out that far from the situation of workers improving since 1984 when the day of mourning was established, even the official figures on workplace deaths show the numbers have risen.

Shunpiking magazine commends all those who are standing up for the injured workers and who are doing so often at the risk of their own jobs. They face these risks whether on the shop floor or at sea, especially amongst the unorganized fishermen who have the highest fatality rate of any sector in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, but also in the unionized sector. We also commend those doing serious research, again in adverse conditions, to document the occupational and environmental diseases, make the connection between the deaths of these works and these diseases and demand proper prevention and compensation.

Province House ceremony

Four years ago, a native Nova Scotia red maple tree and plaque were placed on the grounds of Province House in Halifax to honour the memory of those who lost their lives on the job.This year, ministers, opposition leaders, wcb and trade union centrals gathered in a solemn ceremony on April 28th, observing a minute of silence for workers with a number of wreaths laid in memory of workers. Environment and Labour Minister Carolyn Bolivar-Getson spoke from a prepared script; representatives of the NDP, Liberals, Workers Compensation Board and unions also spoke.

Rick Clarke, president of the Nova Scotia Labour Federation, said: "Today, as we mourn for the victims, business, labour and government must take up the challenge, commitment and responsibility, to fight for the living and provide them with healthy and safe workplaces. The workers of today and tomorrow depend on us to ensure that every measure is taken; every resource provided and every authority given or put in place to enable them to return home at the end of the day safe and healthy. They deserve nothing less." He said Nova Scotia employers and governments are failing on the enforcement front "and working people are paying for this failure with their health and their lives."

"Our workplace laws and regulations need to be expanded, strengthened and enforced to protect workers on the job," he added.

Noticeable in their absence, be in body or in speeches, were those responsible for perpetuating these deaths by non-compliance with or brazen ignoring of the labour code and other safety regulations. The representatives of the Canadian Manufacturers Association did not even have the shame, conscience or remorse for these avoidable tragedies.

The objective figures are appalling and speak for themselves. The un's International Labour Organization estimates that every year two million workers die from accidents on the job or from work-related diseases and that there are 160 million new cases of work-related diseases each year.

In Canada, the clc estimates that about 1,000 workers a year die on the job and from work-related diseases (this is only those deaths officially recognized) and one million suffer injuries or get sick on the job. It is estimated in Ontario alone that there may well be over 6,000 deaths each year from occupational disease that are not officially recognized as such.

Nova Scotia's grim reality

According to the wcb, "Nova Scotia continues to have one of the highest rates of workplace injuries in Canada." Benefits paid to workers are among the lowest.

In 2005, more than 90 Nova Scotians were injured on the job every day - over 34,000 last year. If all the people injured on the job gathered in one place, it would be the third largest city in the province. More than 9,000 of these injuries were serious enough that the person lost time from work. One person died on the job every two weeks.

2005 2004 2003
Number of Claims Registered34,01734,166 33,674
Number of Compensable Time-Loss Claims Registered 9,046 9,298 8,996

Strains and sprains accounted for 60.8 per cent of all compensable claims in 2005.

Workers employed by sixteen large Nova Scotia corporations, whose identity is kept anonymous by the wcb, registered 200 or more claims last year from each company.

My question is: why? Reading the Minister's speech, nowhere does she make reference as to the cause of these injuries, nor of the deaths, nor of their perpetuators, nor how the injured workers and their families can be defended. The demand that Canada and Nova Scotia enforce the human right to safe and healthy working conditions and to stop the offensive of the big corporations is not mentioned. Nor does anyone mention that workers have the right to refuse unsafe work.

Why all these men and women were injured or died and at a greater and greater rate is presented as an unknowable mystery. Nancy MacCready-Williams, ceo of the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB), offered the irrational argument that it is a subjective matter of "risk", "attitudes", i.e., a mindset which can be changed with a campaign for "a culture of safety." She irresponsibly blames the victim, the working man and woman, for "bad attitudes" almost as if it is a genetic trait. If the right to refuse unsafe work exists, how come such a rising rate of injuries/deaths is occurring? Does this not mean the workers are put in the devil's position: either exercise their right, and "risk" being laid off, or endure injuries for the paycheck? Does not the social being and the ideas and methods of the corporate employer not play a role in shaping the consciousness and behaviour of the working man and woman at the place of work?
Of great concern is that corporations are imposing working conditions that are a recipe for disaster: longer hours of work, amalgamation of jobs, increasing the speed of production without increasing or while decreasing the number of workers, contracting out which often forces workers to work alone. It is no mystery. De-unionization of whole sectors is also a major factor as is the refusal to implement saftey measures, even those proscribed by law, let alone to prosecute. According to the WCB, only 37 offenders were taken to court last year while another 23 were ticketed for summary offences. Corporations consider measures and policies to guarantee safety a cost that has to be reduced by all means, and the "cost" of claims to the employer and the wcb was the main theme in the coverage of the Chronicle Herald.

Of great concern also is the fact that corporations are "experimenting" with totally irresponsible concepts and practices such as "risk management" and "behaviour-based safety" through which they blame and discipline the workers for the fatalities, injuries and illnesses plaguing the workplace.

If the remarks and articles by the ceo of the wcb are any indication, our greatest concern is its "social marketing" - an offensive to blame the workers with "shock ads".
Who will this serve? Could it be to assist in creating a climate in the workplace where the injured and ill who dare to speak out against unsafe and unhealthy conditions may be disciplined or fired, considered as trouble makers and disruptive to the blind race of the big corporations to "make Nova Scotia competitive"?

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