On Friday, April 28, thousands of workers, families, employers and union members from around British Columbia, remembered those who lost their lives on the job.
National Day of Mourning drew a large crowd in Sparwood at Titan Park, where the unveiling of the new memorial wall also took place. This contained a list of all those who lost their lives in the Balmer North explosion.
According to WorkSafeBC, there were 144 work-related deaths in B.C. In 2016. Of those, 85 were due to occupational disease, mainly from exposure to asbestos decades ago, and 59 resulted from traumatic injury including 22 from motor vehicle accidents. Occupational disease increased from 41 per cent of all deaths in 2006, to 57 per cent in 2016.
In the past year, the highest number of work-related deaths by work sector were in construction (30), manufacturing (25), transportation and related industries (25), public administration (19), and primary resources sectors (14).
In Sparwood, Piper Jim Walgren led a procession of approximately 50 supporters as they marched down Aspen Drive and into Titan Park. Elk Valley Air Cadets, Squadron #279 and Dean Spry, along with two firefighters took position as the processions colour guard.
Steve Kallies of the United Steelworkers Local 9346 introduced himself and shared how he was honoured to host the days event along side the District of Sparwood, the Balmer North Committee and every worker across the world.
Kallies spoke of the Westray Mining disaster of 1992, and about how too many employers believe that losing workers is simply a cost of doing business. He believes this has to change.
“Employers cannot pay us for the right to kill us. Society should not accept that deal,” he said.
Jeff McKay of WorkSafeBC then spoke about the day of memoriam. He provided statistics on how many workers have been lost through different occupational injuries.
This year marks WorkSafeBC’s 100th anniversary of administering BC’s Workers Compensation system.
“What we’ve learned, is that safety is a shared responsibility,” said McKay. “Employers, you have the responsibility to provide a healthy and safe workplace. Workers, you have the right to expect a healthy and safe place (to work).
“Let’s remember, on this day of mourning, the many people in B.C. who have lost their lives while earning their livelihoods. We grieve for the workers who died, and for their families who are missing them deeply, and trying to rebuild.”
UMW International Representative, Gary Taje, who previously worked underground in the Balmer North mine, started off by speaking about the beginning of mining in Canada.
“We started our industry back in the days of confederation. We built a rail line to unite our country.” said Taje. “To complete that rail line… Somewhere between 600 and 1000 Chinese workers were killed and/or died on the job.
“It would be nice to stand in front of you today and say, things got better.”
Taje spoke of how we have learned in the past by establishing workplace death as criminal, however he believes that 144 deaths last year is 144 too many.
Ken Wildeman spoke on behalf of the District of Elkford.
“Let’s try to remember our lost and injured fellow workers every week, not just at next year’s ceremonies again,” he said.
He then acknowledged the new memorial wall, and how the District of Sparwood should be very proud. Wildeman has never seen a project approved so quickly. He believes this is because everyone recognized its significance, and also recognized many of the names on the wall.
Wildeman also acknowledged Sparwood Councillor Margaret McKie, and her instrumental hand in the completion of the memorial wall.
Ian Anderson of Teck spoke as to how the statue of the miner reflects a community that cares.
President of UMW Local 9346, Alex Hanson, spoke next.
“This wall beside me is a stark reminder of the past, etched in stone are the human sacrifices made in the name of profit. Today, we honour those 181 who paid the ultimate price,” he said.
After the stunning new wall was unveiled, John Kinnear recited the 181 names on the plaque.