Remembering those who died on the job

Day of Mourning event in Kelowna recognized workplace fatalities.

Workers, especially young workers, are being urged to speak up if they are uncomfortable about safety issues in the work place.

The was one of the main messages conveyed Friday at the annual Day of Mourning gathering in Kelowna.

The event, organized by the North Okanagan Labour Council and WorkSafe BC, was one of many similar events held across the country Friday. The events remember workers killed and injured on the job, as well as those who die as a result of illnesses contracted as a result of the work they do.

About 90 people turned out in Kelowna’s Ben Lee park to hear several speakers talk about their experiences being injured on the job, dealing with work-related deaths and injuries and trying to make workplaces safer for all.

Mark Stokes, client services manager for WorkSafe BC in the Okanagan, said last year there were 144 work-place related deaths in this province, 58 of them off-site deaths related to occupational disease such as exposure to asbestos. Four of those deaths were in the Okanagan.

He said part of the message WorkSafe BC is promoting is letting young workers know they have a right to refuse work they feel is unsafe. And they need to speak up for their own safety and the safety of those they work with.

“If a worker does not feel comfortable, he (or she) should say something,” said Stokes.

The gathering also heard from Mike Shaw, a former free-style skier who was badly injured coaching other skiers a few years ago.

Initially paralyzed, and now with two titanium rods in his neck, Shaw made a spectacular recovery despite being told he would never walk again.

He beat those odds and as he stood before the crowd Friday telling his story, he echoed the call to listen to the inner voice that says something may be wrong.

He said he heard that voice within himself moments before the jump he was demonstrating went terribly wrong, but he ignored it. He said he could have pulled out of the jump but didn’t.

“I made a catastrophic landing,” he said. “And that accident changed my life forever.”

Despite that, he said after his initial grief, he recognized the gift he had received before the accident—his love of skiing and the joy it brought him before he was injured. And, that, he said, gave him the strength to battle back. He can’t ski or participate in active sports anymore, but he can walk.

According to Ian Gordon, vice-president of the North Okanagan Labour Council, the annual Day of Mourning is an important reminder of dangers in the work place, and the need to address them.

He said he believes work places are getting safer but there is still much to be done.

He feels responsible employers that have a commitment to the community are stepping up to make sure they make their work places as safe as possible.

“I’ve noticed a lot of change in my 25 years in the workforce,” he said following the event. “Change for the better.”

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