THUNDER BAY -- This National Day of Mourning for injured and fallen workers is bittersweet for Steve Mantis.
On one hand, there were no workplace fatalities in the city in 2013.
On the other, the treasurer of the Thunder Bay District Injured Workers Support Group says a trend is growing where worker safety is getting pushed to the backburner.
“It looks as if there is less emphasis these days on health and safety in the workplace. We’re seeing traumatic fatalities on the rise as well as occupational diseases are on the rise,” Mantis said on Monday during an observance held at the Lakehead Labour Centre.
Mantis believes a struggling economy is making workers hesitant to raise concerns about conditions and risky work.
That creates a cycle where problems are not properly addressed, leading to recurrences of injuries from the same cause.
“There’s pressure on workers to not report injuries and if they do to minimize the impact and I think that results in not adequate investigations at workplace and not correcting hazards,” he said.
He said that all levels of government need to do more to protect workers and force employers to provide more workers’ compensation to encourage safe workplaces.
There have already been three workplace deaths in the province of Ontario through the first four months of the year.
Mantis said there are 20,000 people in Northwestern Ontario who have a permanent injury or disease from their workplace.
Workplace fatalities and injuries are not limited to just sudden deaths on the job site
The family of the late Robert Nelson, who passed away in 2012, addressed the assembled crowd and spoke about how decades of exposure to asbestos eventually cost him his life.
Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 737 president Mike Lundy also told the crowd how, at the age of 38, he has been diagnosed as being deaf in his right ear as a result of his work as a corrections officer.
April 28 has served as a day of observance since 1984 when the Canadian Union of Public Employees held a Workers’ Memorial Day and it became a national day of observance with the passing of the Workers Mourning Day Act in 1991.
Similar observances were held across the country on Monday.