Workplace Health and Safety

20 years after its passing, Canada’s unions demand enforcement of the Westray Law 

May 9, 2024

On May 9th, 1992, 26 workers at the Westray mine in Pictou County, Nova Scotia were killed in an underground explosion as a result of callous, corporate disregard for health and safety laws. 

“We remember the 26 miners who died 32 years ago because of what a judge called ‘a complex mosaic of actions, omissions, mistakes, incompetence, apathy, cynicism, stupidity, and neglect’” says Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. “We mourn them and honour their memory by fighting for work to be safe.”  

In 2004, after a fight led by the United Steelworkers that lasted over a decade, the Westray Law was passed, allowing for negligent employers to be prosecuted under Canada’s Criminal Code.    

Each year, roughly 1000 workers are killed and since the Westray Law took effect, over 18,000 workers have died because of their work.   

“The Law is an important tool and would save lives if it was enforced as it was intended. While not every death is the result of criminal negligence, robust and transparent enforcement of the Westray Law is needed to make work safer now,” continues Bruske. “20 years is too long for workers to wait for justice” 

The Canadian Labour Congress demands: 

  • The appointment of dedicated investigators and prosecutors for workplace deaths and injuries, along with mandatory, standardized training for such positions; 
  • Ensuring Crown attorneys are educated, trained and directed to apply the Westray amendments to the Criminal Code; 
  • Mandatory training for police and health and safety regulators, supported by the necessary resources, on the proper application of the Westray amendments; and  
  • Mandatory procedures, protocols and co-ordination in every jurisdiction for police, Crown prosecutors and health and safety regulators. 

“Workers have been advocating for meaningful enforcement of the Westray Law for 20 years,” said Bruske. “It is well past time for those employers who demonstrate a negligent disregard for the lives of those who work for them to feel the full weight of this law.” 

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