Most of us are probably not aware of the significance of April 28th.    It is the International Day of Mourning, set aside to pay our respects to fellow workers who were injured or killed on the job.  The International Day of Mourning not only commemorates the dead, ill and injured, but raises awareness of the importance of occupational health and safety and its role in preventing needless tragedies. 

Initially launched by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984, the day was officially established as the National Day of Mourning in 1990 after the Canadian government passed the Workers’ Mourning Day Act.  In the United States, the AFL-CIO, America’s union movement, adopted April 28 as Workers’ Memorial Day.  Later, in 1996, the International Confederation of Free Trade organized the first International Day of Mourning, which prompted candle lighting ceremonies to protest unsafe work practices.  More than 85 countries worldwide recognize this important day.  

This year’s theme is “Mourn for the dead, fight for the living.”  Here are ways that you can do just that:

  • Be a safety mentor to a new worker.
  • Find the lesson to be learned from a workplace injury or fatality you’ve heard about.
  • Hold a candlelight vigil to remember workers who died.
  • Take 5 minutes to listen to Stacy Smallwood’s OHS performance poetry, a beautiful tribute to those who died on the job.
  • No matter where you are in North America, dedicate a flower to a fallen worker on the WorkSafeBC memorial website.  As you watch the flower fall, take a moment of silence to honor a friend, family member or colleague. 

There are probably very few of us who have not known someone who died on the job, as a result of either unsafe work conditions, lack of training, or carelessness on the part of the worker.  One of the ways that you can help others is to be a safety mentor to co-workers, at all times, as mentioned above.  Don’t take unnecessary chances; go to your supervisor if you feel your tasks are compromised. 

The following is an excerpt from an AFL-CIO Facts About Safety and Health Department report, dated April 18, 2011:  “This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the effective date of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.  The Act – which guarantees every American worker a safe and healthful working environment – created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to set and enforce standards and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct research and investigations.  This year also marks the 42nd anniversary of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, and 34th anniversary of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act.  Since 1970, workplace safety and health conditions have improved.  More than 431,000 workers can now say that their lives have been saved since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.  However, many workers remain in serious danger, as demonstrated by the Massey Energy West Virginia coal mine disaster last April that killed 29 miners, the Tesoro Refinery explosion in Washington state a few days earlier that killed 7 workers, and the BP/Transocean Gulf Coast oil rig explosion that claimed 11 workers lives.” 

Approximately 1,000 Canadian workers and over 5,000 American workers die annually in work-related incidents.  Canadian workplaces average three workers dying on the job every day, with more than 900,000 workplace injuries reported every year.  An average of 16 workers in the U.S. die each day from injuries received at work, and 134 are estimated to die from work-related diseases.  Each day in America, approximately 9,000 workers are treated in emergency rooms because of occupational injuries.  These statistics indicate that we have a long way to go before we reach the safety goals that North American workers deserve. 

CCOHS, OSHA, CDC/NIOSH hope that the annual observance of this day will strengthen the resolve to establish safe conditions in the workplace for everyone.  It is as much a day to remember the dead as it is a call to protect the living.