April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for people who lost their lives, been injured or suffer from illness due to their work. It was first proposed by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984 (Ontario’s first Workers Compensation Act was approved on April 28, 1914) and was adopted as a national holiday in 1991 by an Act of Parliament. At 11 am that day, there is a minute of silence and public ceremonies are held at various locations around Toronto and the rest of the country (Workers Health & Safety Centre, Canadian Labour Congress).
The traditional focus has been on traumatic injuries. Between 2010 and 2019, an average of 82 people were killed each year by workplace injuries in Ontario that were recognized by the WSIB, our workers’ compensation board, or investigated by the Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development. These were tragic, preventable deaths that should be remembered.
During those same years, an average of 149 people died annually from occupational diseases recognized by the WSIB. These include cancers and other chronic diseases, as well as infectious diseases. Unlike deaths due to traumatic injuries, these are rarely reported by the media and only a small proportion are recognized. Based on the OCRC’s Burden of Occupational Cancer Project, approximately 5% of workplace cancers are compensated and the story is similar for many other occupational diseases.
On April 28, spend a minute at 11 am thinking about all the people who contracted COVID-19 or developed other occupational diseases or died from injuries at work.