Workplace Health and Safety

Work shouldn’t hurt: workplace health and safety rights should be fundamental

April 28, 2022

Canada’s unions are calling on the federal government to take swift action on workplace health and safety to ensure that workers in Canada are protected on the job. We are also calling on the ILO to make occupational health and safety a fundamental right.

In Canada, over 1,000 workplace deaths are reported every year; hundreds of thousands more are injured or get sick as a result of their job. Worldwide, more than nine million people have died due to workplace incidents or exposures in the past three years alone. Marginalized workers are at even greater risk of harm.

“The pandemic has raised the profile of workplace health and safety, and has shown the responsibility that employers bear in keeping workers safe. Many safety measures aren’t onerous or difficult to implement, but they do require employers to prioritize prevention. It’s absolutely unacceptable that every year, over 1,000 workers don’t get to go home at the end of their workday. Many more face potentially lifelong battles with injury and illness, through no fault of their own, because their employer cut corners and put profits over people,” said Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress.

The ILO must adopt occupational safety and health as a fundamental principle and right at work at its upcoming conference, in June of this year. This will help hold member states – including Canada – accountable and encourage them to prioritize occupational health and safety.

In the meantime, the Canadian federal government can take important steps to keep workers safe here at home. These include:

• Ratify and implement core ILO health and safety conventions;
• Ratify and implement all sectoral and hazard-specific conventions;
• Ratify ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment to ensure workers have the right to work free of violence and harassment;
• Require occupational health services for all, including workers in the gig economy and proper compensation when they are injured or made sick as a result of their work; and
• Ensure that the government inspectorate has the resources needed to provide robust health and safety enforcement.

2022 also marks the 30th anniversary of the Westray mine disaster. On May 9, 1992, an explosion caused by a fatal buildup of methane gas and coal dust at the Westray Mine in Pictou County, Nova Scotia killed all 26 miners working underground. This lead to the Westray Law, which made it possible to prosecute corporate criminal negligence.

However, the law is rarely enforced and workplace accidents are seldom investigated for employer negligence. Canada’s unions have long fought for workplace incidents that cause death, injury or illness to be investigated thoroughly in order to determine if employer negligence was a contributing factor. When a worker is seriously injured or killed as a result of employer negligence, that employer must feel the full weight of Canadian law, including potentially facing time in jail for their crime. We will not accept a thousand or more workers dying every year, and thousands more experiencing life altering injuries or illness. Surely those employers who are serious about their duty to protect workers and invest in proven prevention measures would agree.

“We remember these miners and we honour their memory by continuing to fight for workers’ safety. It’s not enough for an employer to cause harm to workers through negligence and simply pay a fine. What is the price of a worker’s life? Employers must be held accountable when a worker is killed, injured or made sick. We must strive for the highest standards for health and safety in all workplaces to ensure that workers go home safely at the end of each day,” said Bruske.

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