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EDITORIAL: Workplace safety has to be a priority

Sombre, reflective, an honouring of those who lost their lives – all those elements combine every year with the marking of the Westray disaster.

But there’s another that arises, and that is the determination that people should not be in danger while working at their jobs.

Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of that grim event in Pictou County’s – the entire country’s – industrial history. One poignant intent is to ensure that those 26 miners lost are remembered. “Their light shall always shine,” coined in their memory, helps express that.

In the days leading up to this anniversary and earlier markers we’ve heard testimony from friends and family members about the excruciating days surrounding that time in May 1992.

We’ve also had remarks from labour spokespersons about how crucial it is to maintain a strong guard against lax practices, against the greed for profit that can sometimes relegate safety considerations to backseat status.

Establishing the Westray Bill into law was a considerable accomplishment. Essentially, it sets out in the Criminal Code liability for negligence that results in bodily harm in the workplace – appropriate, since most will agree the dismissal of safety practices in that mine was negligent to the point of criminal.

But it’s also crucial to look at the track record of any legislation. It has resulted in few prosecutions across the country – yet we still hear about people being killed or injured on the job. It’s time to stop accepting what is preventable as an “accident.” Time to get rid of the notion that profitability sometimes means blood is spilled.

The United Steelworkers have a campaign in the works encouraging governments to put in place the levers to see that these laws are enforced. The public would be well advised to put its support behind the campaign.

The aim is make Crown attorney offices and police investigators more knowledgeable about this legislation, about workplace practices and the way regulations and safety practices can be routinely violated. The Steelworkers make the point that it will require convictions under this law for some workplaces to take it seriously.

If that indeed is the mentality among some corporations that injuries on the job are among the various costs of doing business, the mindset needs a radical awakening.

It’s unfortunate that implementing safety practices and regular inspections simply for the sake of safety and the health of workers is still not a guiding principle at every job site. Convictions under the law and substantial fines are one way to achieve better compliance.

The message needs to get through to investors, boards of directors and upper management that workplace injuries, fatalities and non-compliance with safety regulations are not only tragic for those workers affected, they’re also extremely bad for business.

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