April 27, 2010
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Nova Scotia Westray mine disaster, where an underground methane explosion took the lives of 26 workers. Since then, the labour movement worked for parliament to pass legislation, the so-called Westray bill, which amended the Criminal Code of Canada in order to hold employers, who failed to take steps to protect the lives of their employees, criminally liable. The Westray bill provided a new regime outlining the framework of corporate liability in Canada.
In the nine years since the Westray bill amendments and corporate manslaughter law came into effect, only two provinces have laid charges under the criminal code. If the provinces and territories were using the Westray legislation as intended, we could make significant inroads at protecting workers health and safety and we could save lives.
Tragically, thousands of workers, every year, have their life changed because of a major injury while hundreds more lose their life because of their work. No job is worth dying for, yet 1,014 people lost their lives in 2010, the most recent year for which we have statistics. These are not accidents, they can be prevented. It’s important to remember that Canada still has one of the highest rates of workplace deaths in the industrialized world, and even one death is still one too many.
Nothing can bring back those who have died, but a message has to be sent that cutting corners on health and safety and employees being killed is not acceptable. If and when an employer
willfully neglects health and safety, knowing that someone can be injured or killed – they should be held criminally responsible. Corporations and their representatives need to be held accountable. As workers, we need to pressure our governments to use the Westray legislation as intended.
Today should not be the day another worker dies at work.