B.C. marks Day of Mourning in honour of workers killed on the job

The Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza in downtown Vancouver is lit in honour of workers killed or injured on the job during the National Day of Mourning ceremony Sunday, April 28, 2019. BC Federation of Labour/Twitter

Memorial services were held across B.C. Sunday to honour workers killed or injured on the job during the National Day of Mourning.

In 2018, 131 people died in workplace accidents or from occupational diseases, including exposure to asbestos, WorkSafeBC said.

That number is down from 158 in 2017, but advocates and politicians said Sunday more work needs to be done.

WATCH: (Aired Jan. 18, 2017) Workplace accident sparks calls for new safety measures

Click to play video: 'Workplace accident sparks calls for new safety measures'
Workplace accident sparks calls for new safety measures

“This day highlights the need for all of us to make workplace safety our number one priority,” B.C. Minister of Labour Harry Bains said at an event in downtown Vancouver. “I want to make B.C.’s workplaces the safest in the country.”

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The Olympic cauldron in Jack Poole Plaza was lit while hundreds of workers, union leaders and surviving family members paid tribute to those lost or struck down by injury and disease.

One of those fallen workers was Sadaf Abdul’s father, Abdul Salam Rahimi, who died while painting a ceiling in downtown Vancouver in 2010.

She told the crowd that Rahimi — an Afghan native who immigrated to Canada from Russia in 2003 — had offered her the chance to join him at work that fateful day, but she said no.

“I didn’t know that was the last time I would say goodbye to my dad,” Abdul said, later praising Canada as a place that supports families affected by workplace accidents.

Mike Shaw, a former freestyle skier who was seriously injured after performing a trick while coaching in 2013, said most of those accidents are avoidable.

“Something in my gut as I approached that jump was telling me, ‘don’t do it, don’t go for it,'” he told the crowd in Vancouver. “At work, you have to trust your gut instincts. If you ever feel like something is unsafe, don’t do it.”

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Kelowna’s Ben Lee Park also played host to a gathering for workers and their families.

One of the speakers was Peter Lansing, a transit bus driver who was brutally attacked by a passenger in March while driving, leaving him with a concussion.

“It wasn’t until days later that I even understood why [my co-workers] were upset,” he said. “I had a very lucky day. I could have been killed. People on both sidewalks could have been killed.”

Just days before the assault, which sent the bus across the road and sidewalks and into a brick wall, B.C. Transit committed to installing shields around drivers on all buses.

A timeline for when those shields will be in place, however, has not been announced.

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On the Sunshine Coast, a remote lake near Sechelt was named Phare Lake in honour of 60-year-old John Phare, a wildfire service contractor who died while fighting the old Sechelt mine fire in 2015.

WATCH: (Aired April 28, 2017) Province accused of inaction at Day of Mourning 

Click to play video: 'Day of mourning for workplace accident victims'
Day of mourning for workplace accident victims

Other events were held in areas linked to the lumber and metal industries where workplace accidents are common, including Trail, Prince George and Mackenzie.

In a statement, Premier John Horgan said the NDP is working to also protect the first responders who attend accidents and save lives, including making access to compensation for mental health disorders easier.

“For most of us, working is a fact of life,” Horgan said. “Safe working conditions should be, too. No injury or death at work is acceptable.

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“Our government remains committed to the fair treatment of workers and employers to prevent workplace tragedies, so that everyone makes it home at the end of the day.”

Shaw, who now dedicates himself to advocating for workplace safety across B.C., said the most important way to stay safe in the workplace is to voice concerns as soon as they’re felt.

“You’ve got to speak up if you feel uncomfortable,” he said. “No one can know what you’re feeling unless you use your voice.”

— With files from Megan Turcato

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