April 28, 2019 6:18 pm

‘Today we mourn, but tomorrow we fight’: Albertans honour 162 workers who died in 2018

In 2018, 162 people died in workplace injuries or illnesses in Alberta.

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Albertans marked the International Day of Mourning on Sunday, commemorating 162 workers who died in 2018 while highlighting the need for safer and healthier practices to protect employees.

Edmonton

Names, ages and causes of death — respiratory disease, trauma, cancer and vehicle accident — were read aloud at Grant Notley Park on Sunday.

Greg Mady, president of Edmonton and District Labour Council, said that 162 only counts people who died in Workers’ Compensation Board-covered workplaces.

“We’ll never really have a true idea of how many people died in this case, but that’s the number,” he said.

READ MORE: Bee-Clean employee dies at WCB building in Edmonton

In 2017, 166 people died, according to the WCB.

“Unfortunately, we’re not seeing much progress in any significant decline, which is why we always say that today we mourn, but tomorrow we fight,” Mady said.

Edmontonians gather on Sunday to commemorate lives lost in the workplace in 2018.

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After getting hurt on the job, Mady spent a month in hospital and 11 months in rehab to get back to work. He’s never felt the same.

Mady said local health and safety committees in Alberta are the only way to get empowered and refuse unsafe work.

“It’s really important to point it out, to flag it and to refuse, even though [it] might seem like it’s not worth it. Let me tell you, you do not want to suffer even a terrible injury at work,” he said. “It’s just not worth it.”

If employees have questions about workplace health, they can reach out to the Alberta Workers’ Health Centre. To understand workers’ rights, contact the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

Calgary

Different districts laid wreaths and offered a moment of silence for those who have been injured, disabled or killed because of work-related incidents, illnesses and occupational diseases at SAIT on Sunday.

READ MORE: Man dead after workplace incident in northwest Calgary

Alex Shevalier, president of the Calgary and District Labour Council, said occupational illnesses usually account for about three-quarters of deaths.

“I think it’s important that we focus on the health side, because I think there’s been a lot of great focus over the years on the safety side, which is making sure that processes don’t injure people and making sure that people are doing their job in a safe way,” Shevalier said.

“But a lot of people work with a lot of different chemicals and we don’t necessarily know what the long-term effects of a lot of those chemicals are, and we see that reflected in the number each year.”

Calgarians lay wreaths at SAIT on Sunday to commemorate lives lost in the workplace.

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While changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act came into effect in June 2018 — the first update in nearly 40 years — Shevalier is concerned that the incoming United Conservative provincial government will repeal parts of Bill 6, farm safety legislation.

“Farm workers, prior to the NDP, had no rights at work, so the only option they had was to sue,” he said.

“And we don’t want to go back to that because if you’re dealing with private insurance, and they deny you, your only option then is to sue, which is an expensive and lengthy process and it’s not necessarily a fair process to farm workers who — let’s be honest — don’t make tons of money [and] wouldn’t necessarily have the money to hire a lawyer.”

READ MORE: 47-year-old worker dies at central Alberta polyethylene plant: Dow Canada

In 1991, the Canadian government passed the Workers Mourning Day Act to make April 28 the official Day of Mourning.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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