The North Star


Day of Mourning

“Almost 5 workplace deaths a day in Canada”

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Over 40 years ago, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) passed a resolution to begin honouring April 28th as a memorial day for injured or killed workers. A couple of decades later, over 100 countries have adopted the resolution, officially marking April 28th, the Day of Mourning for workers. 

April 28th was chosen as a nod to Canadian labour history, being the day the Ontario Workmen's Compensation Act was enacted in 1914. The first of its kind, the Compensation Act gave workers and their families financial compensation for work-related injuries and fatalities.

More than 100 years later, Canada still faces an alarming number of workplace injury and deaths. Statistics Canada numbers show that every year around 1000 Canadians die on the job, but labour advocates warn these numbers are much higher. “We are talking almost 5 workplace deaths every working day in Canada” says Janice Folk-Dawson, the Executive Vice-President of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL). “Over a thousand deaths a year is not a statistic Canada should be proud of.”

According to the government, if the death did not happen on location, during work hours, it doesn’t count. Even if it is the result of a workplace injury, “if death doesn’t happen during the work hours, and you die a week later, it doesn’t count and falls through the cracks.” says Janice.

In Ontario, work-related injuries and illness claims go through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). But Janice explains that like car insurance, claims can be denied. “It’s no longer a compensation system, it’s insurance. That means that government can actually deny workers’ claims, and that means, the statistics are really a false representation. It could be more like 10, 15 times higher.”

In 2023for example, Ontario alone recorded 2,540 work-related deaths, but only 254 were allowed by the provincial Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. The problem is particularly severe with deaths from occupational diseases, such as cancer and lung diseases, which can often develop long after the initial harmful exposure. In 2023, Ontario’s estimates vary between 1,610 and 5,150 workers who died from work-related cancers.

But long-term health issues often don’t qualify for WSIB claims. The number of workplace injuries and illnesses due to hazardous work was over 350,000, with just 176,500 cases compensated by the insurance board.

The Canadian Labour Council National Director of Health, Safety & Environment, Alex Callahan, told North Star that “the biggest concern is that prevention isn't a priority. And, in 20 years, only 23 cases have been brought and only 2 individuals have been held criminally responsible. The rates of injury and deaths are not coming down, and the message from government and employers is that the status quo is okay. It's not. Every worker has the right to safe work.”

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