Just under 50 people gathered at the Revelstoke Workers’ Memorial in Centennial Park on April 27 to mark Workers’ Memorial Day, an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work.
This year, organizers extended invitations to managers from many local companies and organizations, many of whom were on hand for the noon ceremony.
The Revelstoke Highlanders Pipe Band piped in the ceremony, which was held under blue, cloudy skies and a brisk, gusty wind.
The Revelstoke Workers’ Memorial has undergone some recent renovations. There’s a new picnic bench nearby, and the lawn area around it has recently been seeded. There’s also a small, stone plaza in front of the gateway monument, which symbolizes the transition of lost workers from life to death.
Emcee Francis Maltby outlined the history of the international day of commemoration, noting its Canadian roots in the Workers Compensation Act of 1914, and later the 1991 federal legislation respecting a National Day of Mourning.
Maltby said despite many advances in workplace safety, much has yet to be done, especially in developing countries.
Internationally, it’s estimated two million die annually of workplace accidents and diseases, or 6,000 people daily. Maltby noted the connection between consumer items we buy from overseas and the dangerous working conditions endured by some who produce them.
In Canada, Maltby said an estimated 1,000 Canadians die on the job each year. In B.C., an average of three workers die and 17 are permanently disabled each week. He said young and experienced workers were especially at risk.
Last year alone, there were 142 worker deaths in B.C. 50 per cent died of work-related diseases; 30 per cent to trauma and the remaining 20 per cent to other causes.
Mayor David Raven provided an address. He said we’ve come a long way over a few generations. His grandparents grew up in the coal mining industry, where death on the job could be a monthly occurrence.
Raven spent his career in the forest industry. During that time he experienced a transition from a culture where death on the job was accepted into modern practices where safety is emphasized.
Columbia River – Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald said knowledge and worker empowerment are key to a culture of safety. “Workers have to be empowered to make the correct decisions for themselves,” Macdonald said. “If you look at where the accident rates are high, it’s where people haven’t been given the knowledge to look after themselves and actually don’t, very often, have the ability to say no to doing something that’s unsafe.”
Macdonald said: “It’s not something that just happens or doesn’t happen; it’s something I think everyone that’s gathered here knows that we create. We create workplaces where the workforce is informed.”
Revelstoke Forest Workers Society representative Cindy Pearce said the small entrance plaza was almost complete. She thanked Bruce Watt of BHEX for the stones used in the plaza and the City of Revelstoke for the labour. There was a space for a bench, and anyone interested in helping out with the bench should be in touch.
This year, the Revelstoke event was held a day early than the traditional April 28 event.