Whether it’s a death, a serious injury or an occupational disease, when someone is hurt at work the shock waves travel far; pain and grief last a lifetime. A family is thrown into a world that is unfamiliar to most — one of investigations, inquests, and compensation claims. A serious workplace incident or illness touches their finances, their emotional lives, their physical and mental health. The impact isn’t limited to family — co-workers and community also feel the ripples.

Day of Mourning, observed on April 28 each year, is an opportunity for the broader community to honour these lives that have been permanently scarred. In workplaces and at monuments across Canada and around the world — people will gather to lay wreaths, light candles, and remember.

Remembering isn’t enough

Trish Penny, whose story is in these pages, would emphasize this point. Trish, whose brother Luke was killed in a trench collapse in 2010, has chosen to dedicate her career to improving workplace health and safety. Many others who have personally felt the pain of a workplace tragedy share Trish’s passion and commitment. If not a health and safety career, they find other ways to contribute to prevention in a bid to ensure others don’t have to live through what they’ve experienced.

Occupational health and safety has witnessed impressive advances over the past decades — the attention paid to upgraded training standards, and the focus on workplace mental health are evidence of the sophistication of health and safety programs in many sectors.

Occupational health and safety has witnessed impressive advances over the past decades — the attention paid to upgraded training standards, and the focus on workplace mental health are evidence of the sophistication of health and safety programs in many sectors. And yet, across the country the number of work-related deaths remains stubbornly pegged where it’s been for 15 years: 900 to 1,000 deaths per year.

Mourning those lost

It’s probably no coincidence that North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) week so closely follows Day of Mourning each year. While workplace health and safety must be a focus year-round, NAOSH week is a chance to recognize achievements and re-commit to achieving more. NAOSH events — like Threads of Life’s national Steps for Life walk — help workplaces to integrate consciousness of health and safety at every level, and maybe even have a little fun.

Day of Mourning honours those whose lives were altered or ended when something went wrong at work. It reminds us why workplace health and safety is vital. NAOSH week and all the weeks that follow challenge us to do something about it — to work towards a world in which every worker comes home safely and healthy, every day.