04/28/2012 02:13 EDT | Updated 06/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Canadians Don't Need to Die on the Job

Today, Canadians will observe a National Day of Mourning in memory of workers killed or injured on the job. In 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, 1,014 Canadians lost their lives as a direct result of their work. That is 1,014 too many. We can and must do more to prevent these tragedies on behalf of the victims and for their families and communities.

One way in which we can save lives is to take seriously the provisions of the Westray bill, which became law in 2004 but the provisions of which are rarely used. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Nova Scotia's Westray mine disaster, where an underground methane explosion took the lives of 26 workers. The labour movement worked tirelessly, and successfully, for parliament to pass the so-called Westray bill. It amended the Criminal Code of Canada in order to hold employers criminally liable if they failed to take steps to protect the lives of their employees.

The Westray bill provided a new regime outlining the framework of corporate liability in Canada. But in the nine years since the bill's 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 lives changed because of a major injury while hundreds more lose their lives because of their work. 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 that one death would be one too many.

Nothing can bring back those who have died, but a message has to be sent. It is not acceptable for employers to cut corners on health and safety and have employees killed or injured as a result. 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.