On April 28, the Yukon observed the National Day of Mourning, which remembers and recognizes those who have died, been injured or suffered an illness as a result of their work.
Safety trends in the Yukon have been improving, but following a year with four work-related deaths in the territory, the resounding message was that any death or serious injury in the workplace is too much.
At a ceremony streamed remotely, officials from the Yukon government, labour unions and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce pledged their commitment to workplace safety and lit a row of black candles in memory of those who died or were injured on the job.
“In Canada, over 1,000 workers die as a result of their work every year. While even one worker fatality is too many, this is the tip of the iceberg. And many more deaths that are not recognized. Employers must be held accountable in cases where employer negligence has caused harm, injury or illness,” said Yukon Federation of Labour president Ron Rousseau.
“We must honor the dead by fighting for the living. This means fighting for better protection for workers and corporate responsibility in cases of employer negligence.”
Along with the Yukon Federation of Labour’s ceremony, the day of mourning was observed in the Yukon legislature. MLAs spoke about the need to drive down injuries and fatalities locally and also recognized the approaching 30th anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster that killed 26 workers in an underground explosion and led to criminal code amendments holding employers and management responsible for workplace safety.
Kurt Dieckmann, the president and CEO of Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety board, said he has noticed an improving trend of safety consciousness over his career in the territory — when he started in 1999, health and safety wasn’t even an afterthought and injury rates were high.
He said at one time the annual rate of workers who suffered an injury that took them off the job for some period of time was as high as three out of every 100. A real decrease has been seen with that rate down to approximately one out of every 100.
He said it’s been helped by the creation of Northern Safety Network Yukon, a partnership between government and industry that provides safety training and other resources to workers and employers.
Dieckmann said despite the progress, work must continue to further reduce the rate of injury and to prevent workplace deaths entirely.
“Four deaths is incredibly tragic. One fatality is way too many,” he said of the work-related deaths the Yukon saw in 2021.
According to Dieckmann, the Yukon has not had a year without a work-related death since 2015 and between 2016 and 2021 the workers’ compensation board tracked 17 fatalities.
He said it is important for people to understand that workplace injuries and fatalities don’t discriminate and can happen anywhere, regardless of occupation or industry, if workers, employers and supervisors aren’t paying attention to safety.
“The Day of Mourning is extremely important. It shines a light on the fact that tragedy does happen in workplaces. People shouldn’t be getting injured or dying simply because they went to work,” Dieckmann said.
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