By Laura Stovel
Revelstoke workers gathered at the Worker’s Memorial Friday, to honour those who lost their lives in the workplace. With the memory of two serious sawmill fires in northern BC fresh on people’s minds, the members of the BC Ambulance Service, Fire Department, forestry industry and many others present could easily reflect on just how dangerous many workplaces can be.
The stone archway, which stands near the Columbia River at the beginning of the Greenbelt walkway, “marks the transition at the end of our lives from the living to the post-living,” said school bus driver Francis Maltby, spokesman for the event.
April 27, the International Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job, is internationally recognized and was adopted by the United Nations but the story began in Canada, Maltby explained. After a serious mining accident in Sudbury, Ontario, the local union organized a day of mourning and the idea took off from there. More than two million people are estimated to die every year around the world from work-place accidents, mostly in the Third World. Around 440,000 of those are as a result of toxic chemicals, including 100,000 from asbestos, which Canada continues to ship to developing countries, he said.
In BC, 142 workers died in the workplace in 2011, he said.
Mayor Dave Raven spoke about growing up in a coal mining community and later working in the forest industry. At the time, “death was
part” of the workplace, he said. The situation has improved a great deal as employers and workers take workplace safety much more seriously.
MLA Norm MacDonald noted that “you can’t think of these things as accidents. They’re not. Most of these things are preventable.” The key is empowerment, he said. “Workers need to be empowered to make decisions for themselves so they can stand up for others and for themselves.
Most importantly, Maltby said, we all have a responsibility to mentor young people who may not be as aware of good safety practices as older workers. This means that older workers need to model good safety procedures.
The worker’s memorial has recently been improved by the addition of slate landscaping. Forester Cindy Pearce announced plans to install a bench at the site and encouraged people to make donations. Those interested should go to City Hall later in early May, once the account has been set up.