Every year on April 28th, candles are lit, ribbons and black armbands are donned, and flags are lowered to half-mast as communities across the country commemorate those workers who have lost their lives to work-related incidents.

The National Day of Mourning is, at once, a day that lets us look back at our history and the progress we’ve made, and one which allows us to renew our commitment to the promotion of healthy and safe workplaces —a commitment which is exceedingly important today.

Fewer injuries

When the National Day of Mourning was first established in 1985 by the Canadian Labour Congress, there were almost 50 work-related injuries per 1000 employed workers in Canada. Today, that number has fallen to under 15 per 1000, and continues to decrease.

According to Mark Elias, the communications officer for the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association, much of that drop can be attributed to improving health and safety standards in the workplace, such as the widespread adoption of workplace specific training programs that address the biggest causes of injury.

Elias also points out that business owners are beginning to recognize the financial imperative in investing in health and safety.

“It’s up to the employer to educate workers how to work safe. They have to make it a point to talk about safety every day,” says Elias. “At the end of the day, if a worker does end up having an incident, it’s going to cost a lot more to a company than it would to take a few minutes out of each day to ensure that safety is a number one priority on a job site.”

"It’s up to the employer to educate workers how to work safe. They have to make it a point to talk about safety every day."

Promoting efficiency

Nowhere has this idea of a financial return on investing in health and safety taken more root than in the growing area of ergonomics, the science of designing equipment to fit the worker.

While ergonomics barely factored into business decisions two decades ago, today, it’s grown to become a key consideration among business owners who see it as a valuable way to increase productivity within the workplace.

“When I first got into the field of ergonomics about 10 years ago, I constantly had to explain what it was, what ergonomists do, and how we can bring benefits to organizations. Today people recognize what it is,” says Trevor King, a Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist.

Challenges ahead

Despite these developments in physical health, many of today’s workplaces continue to struggle with protecting employee’s mental health.

“While steps have been taken to put mental health on equal footing with physical health in the workplace, there is still an imbalance,” says Jan Chappel, senior technical specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

However, according to Chappel, current efforts to normalize discussions about mental health within the workplace are promising.

“People are often very scared to start doing anything with mental health, but once they realize that when you start you can approach it in a very accommodating way, it’s actually not as scary as you might think. There are providers out there who will provide organizations with that information and training and it makes a difference; it helps.”