April 25, 2014
Since the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act came into effect in October 1979, the following deaths and injuries have occurred in Ontario workplaces according to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (previously the Workers’ Compensation Board).
These fatality figures still do not reflect the true toll taken by occupational diseases, estimated to be as high as 6,000 Ontario workers every year by a study entitled “Occupational Disease and Workers’ Compensation” prepared by Dr. Annalee Yassi for Paul Weiler’s inquiry into the Ontario compensation system. The health care costs of these work-related illnesses are in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Much of this money would be reimbursed to the Ontario health care system by the WSIB but few workers make the connection between their ill health and the exposures they have had over the years. Just 273 fatal occupational disease claims were made to the WSIB in 2012.
These statistics do not include the injuries, illnesses and deaths suffered by approximately 38% of the workers in Ontario whose employers do not have compensation coverage by the WSIB.
Currently, 40% of the lost-time injuries allowed by the WSIB are for musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) resulting from poor ergonomic controls in the workplace.
Much of this human suffering could be averted if the government would shift its approach to workplace hazards by adopting the very first recommendation from the recently released final report of the SARS Commission. That recommendation reads as follows:
“That the precautionary principle, which states that action to reduce risk need not await scientific certainty, be expressly adopted as a guiding principle throughout Ontario’s health, public health and worker safety systems by way of policy statement, by explicit reference in all relevant operational standards and directions, and by way of inclusion, through preamble, statement of principle, or otherwise, in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Health Protection and Promotion Act, and all relevant health statutes and regulations.”
In 1988, an NDP resolution introduced into the Ontario legislature, passed unanimously recognizing April 28 as a Provincial Day of Mourning. In 1991, a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by the NDP was passed which now proclaims April 28 of each year as a National Day of Mourning. According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), commemoration activities are now held in more than 100 countries. The Day of Mourning is now truly a Global event.
April 28 allows all Canadians and people throughout the world to pay respect to those working people who have died or suffered injuries and diseases on the job. While we mourn the dead, labour and all people must dedicate themselves to fight for the living and prevent this terrible and unnecessary toll.
* The total deaths include 69 miners who died of lung cancer and were recognized in 1988, but did not necessarily die that year.
† In May of 1993, the Workers’ Compensation Board changed the method used to report fatalities. Previously, fatalities were reported based on when the claim was allowed by the Board regardless of the year in which the claim was registered. The new method reports only those fatality claims registered and allowed in the same year. The 1993 fatality figure listed here reflects the total fatalities based on the previous method of reporting. The fatalities after 1993 are being tabulated by the OFL based on the new method of reporting.
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