More education needed for workplace safety

Stop the killing.

Enforce the law. This is the slogan of a new workplace safety campaign launched by the United Steelworkers of Canada (USW). On February 5, members of the campaign presented in front of Hamilton’s city council. Its goal was to convince councillors to bring more pressure on provincial and federal governments to enforce the law that holds companies criminally liable for workplace fatalities.

Known as the Westray law, it was added to the Criminal Code of Canada in 2004 after an explosion in a Westray coal mine that killed 26 workers. Since then, only a few charges have been laid with minimal consequences for employers.

“It’s not fair that no one is held accountable for deaths in the workplace. There’s nothing worse than sending your family member to work with a lunch bag and them coming home in a body bag,” said Sylvia Boyce, Health, Safety and Environment Coordinator for USW District 6.

According to Boyce, over 9,000 people have died in Canada as a result of workplace injuries. Ontario has the highest fatality rates per jurisdiction.  However, no-one has faced a day in jail.

“If someone dies in a home or on the street, the police open up an investigation. If it happens at work, it is not looked at through the same lens of criminal accountability. This has to change,” said Boyce.

One of the key reasons for the under-utilization of the Westray amendments is a lack of knowledge, education, training and resources. As Ward 7 Councillor Scott Duvall noted, some students are afraid to enter the workforce because employers do not respect legislation that protects their health and safety.

Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead agreed: “We live in a culture of risk-taking because there is a lack of education and support about what goes on in the workplace.”

City councillors fully supported the lobby efforts of the USW.   Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark vehemently argued that the federal and provincial governments have to shift the focus from safeguarding corporations to protecting human lives.

“The reason there are no prosecutions is that the government thinks it will kill the economy. This is not the case. They go after the one person who was in control and showed disregard for human life,” he said.

Boyce and the USW are lobbying for education to begin at the college level. According to Boyce, it is crucial for students entering the workforce to be aware of their rights and responsibilities.

“These students represent our future and must be given a certain level of protection,” she said.

For more information, visit the campaign’s website at www.stopthekilling.ca.

About the author  ⁄ Rachael Williams

Rachael Williams is a third year journalism student at Mohawk College.

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