“Everybody has the responsibility to do everything we can,” says WSIB Chair

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WSIB Day of Mourning
Photo by Michael Sidofsky. Courtesy of WSIB

228 people have died from workplace-related injuries in 2018 alone.

WSIB Chair Elizabeth Witmer hopes to bring more awareness (and hopefully prevention) to this heartbreaking statistic.

Apr. 28 is the WSIB National Day of Mourning in Canada. The Day of Mourning, also known as Workers’ Memorial Day, is officially recognized in about 100 countries worldwide,  is part of a month-long campaign the WSIB runs every April in Ontario.

“This is a day to remember, to honour and at the same time, it’s an opportunity for us to recommit ourselves to ensure that these tragedies don’t happen in the future and to commit ourselves to healthy and safe workplaces, she told SaultOnline in a phone interview.

Witmer said this year’s campaign is focused on public awareness – through radio ads, public transit ads on buses (including one here in the Sault), online videos, social media, a website, and events, such as the ceremony that was held in Toronto on Friday.

“Our focus this year is on remembering the ones who did not make the commute home,” Witmer explained. “Because we all know that everyday millions of Ontarians go to work and, unfortunately, not all of them return.

This year, WSIB is telling real stories about people who went to work and never came home.

“As you can well imagine, the impact on the families and friends who have lost loved ones is horrific and the pain and sadness is there and so we want to help people understand the impact of these tragedies,” Witman said.

One of those stories is told by a Waterloo man named Todd Smith, who lost his brother, Sean Smith, to a workplace accident.

Sean, who was a mechanic, was crushed and killed by a limousine in 2000, at the age of 26.

Smith said WSIB offered what help and support they could, but he also credits Threads of Life, an Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support, for being a huge support system for him and his family.

Threads of Life was started by Shirley Hickman in 2003, after she lost her son, Tim Hickman, to a workplace accident.

“It’s a real challenging time from the family’s perspective,” Smith told SaultOnline in phone interview. “And not having a whole lot of ways to get answers or even find other people in similar situations, so your mind is spinning around not knowing what to do.

“(Threads of Life) brings families together, and through that, helps with the grieving process and helps people to heal.”

Smith now volunteers for Threads of Life and is also a volunteer speaker who goes around to various companies and tells the story of his brother, “in hopes that that resonates with other people, so that as they’re working day to day, they will make sure that it doesn’t happen to them.”

He said he wants to create awareness and keep people’s minds on task.

“We all kind of do silly things at some point and we don’t necessarily pay attention,” he explained, using the example of ladder safety. “So I try to tell people always make sure you’re doing things safely and don’t ever let up for a second because we all think we’re in control in those situations, but my brother’s a testament where that’s not the case and it does happen to everyday people.”

Smith said he thinks the Day of Mourning is a “phenomenal” way to get people thinking, which will hopefully cause more prevention of deaths in the workplace.

Witman said they’re also trying to raise awareness in young people just entering the workforce and their parents.

“We want to make sure they recognize the need for training before they start a job,” she explained. “They need to recognize that not only do they have responsibilities, they also have the right to refuse unsafe work. And there have certainly been cases where young people have died because they’ve been asked to do work that is unsafe and they received absolutely no training.”

Witman said she thinks this day is an important way to mourn, honour and remember those who have lost their lives in the workplace.

“We come together to do that, and at the same time we need to recommit ourselves to workplace health and safety in order to ensure that there are no tragedies in the future.”

For more information on the National Day of Mourning, click here.

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