Think that workplace illness, injuries, and fatalities are a thing of the past? Think again. Every day, nearly 5 Canadians die from work-related illness and injury. Sometimes the cause is employers’ criminal neglect, like the 1992 Westray explosion that killed 26 coal miners. Other times it is preventable tragedies like the 10 Peruvian farm workers killed in a highway accident near Waterloo, Ontario in 2012. An unknown number of other workers will be sickened or killed by long-term exposure to workplace chemicals and toxins. Too many workers leave home in the morning, wondering if they’ll make it back from the job in the evening.
Workers are always vulnerable, because employers decides what work gets done, with what materials and with what technology. To protect themselves, workers have banded together to insist that their health and safety on the job take priority. They’ve demanded proper protections and the right to know whether the chemicals they’re working with are safe. They’ve demanded the right to refuse to do work that they know is unsafe, and the right to protection if the employer tries to penalize them for refusing to do unsafe work. And they’ve demanded to play a role alongside management in ensuring a healthy and safe workplace. Because workers stand together in ensuring safe working conditions, employers avoid costly lawsuits, fewer workers are on disability leave, less strain is placed on the public health care system, and workplace productivity is higher.