The Incalculable Costs of Workplace Death, Injury and Illnesses and the National Day of Mourning

Sunday April 28, 2013 is the National Day of Mourning. The purpose of the National Day of Mourning is twofold – to remember and honour those lives lost or injured and to renew the commitment to improving health and safety in the workplace – and to prevent further deaths, injuries and diseases from work by bringing attention this outstanding issue.

The National Day of Mourning was launched by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984 and was officially recognized by the federal government in 1991. The National Day of Mourning is now recognized in about 80 countries around the world.

The number of deaths in the Canadian workplace each year is astonishing and the projected trending to 2020 is no better. For the 10 year period of 2000 to 2010 there were 9780 workplace deaths in Canada, including the deaths of 207 Nova Scotia workers during this period.

To note, the three most dangerous industry sectors were: Construction, Manufacturing and Transportation / Storage. Further, more than 90% of those who died on the job were men; a function of the male dominance of these most dangerous industry sectors.

Work-related accidents are very expensive. The total of compensation paid to work accident victims, or their families, and of other economic costs of work-related injuries, each year are estimated at more than $12 billion.

Dollar amounts do not take into account the pain and suffering of the victims and their families, however. To name but a few of the other costs of workplace deaths, injuries and illnesses:

• Loss of job and income;
• Inability to maintain a previous standard of living, loss of home, and sometimes bankruptcy;
• Increased use of prescription narcotics, street level drugs and alcohol, and sometimes to the point of addictions;
• Estrangement and deterioration of key relationships including those with spouse, children, family, friends and co-workers;
• Decreased community involvement;
• Emotional trauma including depression, anxiety, mood swings and personality changes.

The National Day of Mourning is as much a day to remember the dead as it is a call to protect the living. Every employer should recognize this day but every employer should also take tangible steps to improve their workplace safety through safety programming, hazard assessment and training.

Should you wish to honour our fallen workers on April 28, join a National Day of Mourning ceremony in a community near you; check local listings. For those in the Halifax Regional Municipality the ceremony will be held at the Nova Scotia Legislature.

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