April 24, 2006

News release

Day of Mourning ceremony Friday

Kelowna flag person Theresa Newman and the other 187 people who die on the job annually in British Columbia will be remembered in a Day of Mourning ceremony April 28.

The ceremony, hosted by the North Okanagan Labour Council, will take place at 5 p.m., off the west side of Highway 97 at the old weigh scales by Parklane Acura, near the spot where the mother of three was killed March 27 by a speeding car.

Several of Newman's co-workers are expected to attend to mourn for Newman and others who died or were injured on the job, and to continue the fight for safer workplaces.

"Being a flag person is one of the most dangerous and least respected jobs around," said Brad Dunlop, president of the North Okanagan Labour Council. "We not only need to educate the driving public to pay more respect these traffic-control people, but the government, too, needs to show respect by putting some teeth into its worker safety laws."

WorkSafe B.C. reported 188 workers lost their lives last year due to workplace injury, illness or disease. Among those were a worker crushed by heavy equipment at the Pattison Sign Plant in Penticton and 43 people in the forest industry alone.

The numbers have been rising in recent years.

"It's unacceptable that working in the 21st century has become more hazardous, not less," said Dunlop, who places much of the blame on lawmakers in Victoria.

"The reduce-red-tape mentality that has gutted health and safety regulations, reduced the ability of inspectors to investigate workplace accidents and encouraged industry self-regulation is a failure that has cost workers their lives.

"To stop the carnage, the government must reverse course and put into place health and safety regulations that are effective," said Dunlop, whose Steelworkers Union is putting pressure on Victoria to take strong steps to guarantee safety in the forest industry.

The Steelworkers say plans for a forest ombudsman, appointed by the industry-dominated Forest Safety Council, and other self-regulatory measures introduced by the forest companies, are superficial gestures.

"If the Safety Council really believes an ombudsman would help end the injuries and deaths in our forests, then they should call on the provincial government to appoint a truly independent ombudsperson," said Dunlop.

The Canadian Labour Congress's theme for the Day of Mourning is Organizing for Healthier and Safer Workplaces.

"This means unions will be organizing to have effective health and safety committees; organizing to ensure that workers participate in developing health and safety programs for the workplace; organizing to have regular workplace inspections; organizing to ensure proper training; and organizing to support calls for new legislation," said Dunlop.

In 1984 when the Canadian Labour Congress initiated April 28 as the National Day of Mourning, 744 workers were listed in Canada as having died from workplace injuries.

In 2004, the numbers listed by the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada showed that 928 workers were killed due to workplace injuries.

Dunlop also supports the B.C. Federation of Labour's push to protect night-shift workers, particularly those who work alone.

The federation has been campaigning for a crackdown on employers who fail to implement and enforce working-alone policies since Grant DePatie was killed in Maple Ridge last spring while trying to prevent the theft of gasoline from the gas station where he worked.

While regulations require employers to have a plan in place for people working alone, there is no mechanism to ensure this is done.

"It's more proof self-regulation isn't working," said Dunlop, adding that workplaces should be required to have at least two employees on duty during overnight hours.

"It should not be OK to expect young people to be working minimum wage, by themselves, at 2 in the morning. I can't imagine what else we could do to make their work environment any more dangerous."

"We must stop the carnage," said Dunlop. "We need health and safety regulations with teeth."



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