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‘Dying isn’t part of the job’: Vernon honours those who lost their lives at work

A ceremony was held at city hall to mark the National Day of Mourning Friday
CUPE 626 representative Phil Savill addresses the gathering in front of Vernon City Hall to mark the National Day of Mourning, a day to honour those who have been killed or injured on the job, Friday, April 28, 2023. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Dozens of people gathered at Vernon city hall to honour the 181 people who lost their lives on the job in B.C. last year.

Friday, March 28, was the National Day of Mourning, a day designated to pay homage to those who suffered a workplace death, and discuss ways to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses in the future.

MLA Harwinder Sandhu said the government is working on addressing workplace safety in a number of ways, including making changes around licensing and certification requirements for asbestos abatement contractors and workers, which will be coming into effect soon. Asbestos poisoning is one of the leading causes of workplace deaths.

Sandhu also said B.C. has hired more prevention investigation officers, increased penalties for non-compliant employers and enhanced investigations for workplace incidents.

“Despite all the work we’re doing, let’s not forget the lives that have been lost and the families that are still being impacted by those losses,” Sandhu said.

“Workers have the right to refuse unsafe work and employers have the responsibility for worker safety, including identifying risks, implementing effective controls and providing proper training and equipment to eliminate incidents and injuries.

“Workers are the backbone of our economy and they deserve safer workplaces,” Sandhu said.

Josh Winquist, with the City of Vernon, spoke on behalf of Mayor Victor Cumming, who could not be at the ceremony.

“As an organization, the city has a duty to provide and maintain a health and safety environment for every one of its staff members and the public it serves. The City of Vernon has more than 600 employees working in a variety of environments, from road construction to utility line repairs to recreation programming to water reclamation, community safety, fire services, building inspections, planning services and administrative roles,” Winquist said.

“Each and every day, specific steps must be taken to ensure that health and safety are at the forefront of everything the city does.”

Phil Savill, with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 626, said we may be coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but workers still have the right to be protected from the dangers of respiratory illness.

Savill said there are four workers’ rights enshrined in every health and safety law in Canada: the right to refuse work you feel is unsafe until an investigation can be carried out; the right to participate in deciding what is safe in the workplace and report hazards; the right to information on any hazard in the workplace and the right to be free from punishment for carrying out any of the other rights or any other requirements of health and safety law.

“Our health and safety committees are where we explore solutions to workplace health and safety issues and make recommendations to employers. Our voices are important,” Savill said.

Paige Gallant, prevention officer with WorkSafeBC pointed out that last year’s 181 work-related deaths was up from 161 in 2021. She said occupational disease remains the single leading cause of death for workers in B.C., taking 107 lives last year, many of which were related to asbestos-related disease.

“And five young workers aged between 15 and 24 lost their lives due to work,” Gallant said, adding there were two workplace deaths in the North Okanagan last year.

Gallant said creating a workplace culture where employers and workers prioritize health and safety “is essential to helping ensure tragedies don’t happen.”

Capt. Rob Cucheran with Vernon Fire Rescue Services said the names of 48 firefighters were recently added to the B.C. Firefighters memorial outside the legislature building in Victoria — deaths that happened over the last three years.

“As important as it is to remember these firefighters, it is equally as important to remember their families. That empty seat at the dinner table. We must honour them by not accepting that dying or being injured is part of the job,” Cucheran said.

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Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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