Pat Dwyer’s name has been added to the miners memorial wall in Sparwood. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Elk Valley pays tribute to fallen workers

Dedication to Fording River contractor Pat Dwyer unveiled at National Day of Mourning ceremony

At Titan Park in Sparwood, the miners memorial wall bears a new name and date – Patrick Dwyer, April 9, 2018.

The 70-year-old contractor died when his floating excavator flipped into a tailings pond at Teck Coal’s Fording River Operations.

LOOK BACK: Fording River victim identified

Dwyer was one of two men killed on the job in the Elk Valley last year and five in the East Kootenay.

His dedication was unveiled at the National Day of Mourning memorial ceremony in Sparwood on Sunday.

“As you can see from the memorial wall, this valley is not foreign to tragedy. With great sorrow we added one more name to the list this year,” said Sparwood Councillor Sonny Saad.

“Although workplace accidents can happen anywhere at anytime, most of our worker accidents happen within the mining industry in this area.

“The mining industry has taken great strides to improve the safety over the years. However, tragedies do strike us without warning. It is a reminder that we do work in a dangerous environment.”

LOOK BACK: Elk Valley mine deaths prompt safety initiatives

Dozens of people, led by bagpipe player Jim Walgren and the Elkview Operations mine rescue team, marched from Centennial Square to Titan Park, where many more gathered for the ceremony.

They also paid tribute to Stefan Falzon, who was fatally injured in a vehicle collision at Elkview Operations on November 18.

Falzon’s name has not yet been added to the memorial wall at the request of his family.

“Today is a day for us to remember and honour our fallen brothers and sisters. It is a day for us to reflect on the changes that have been made to ensure those incidents never happen again,” said United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9346 Vice President Nick Howard.

“Finally, today is a day where we make the commitment to each other that we will look out for one another and ensure we all go home to our families at the end of the day.”

In B.C., there were 131 work-related deaths last year, which is an average of 2.5 workers dying each week.

WorkSafeBC Occupational Safety Officer Jack Marra said the National Day of Mourning serves as a reminder that one workplace death is too many.

“It gives us added meaning and urgency to the need for safer, healthier workplaces,” he said. “Health and safety must be a priority every day of the year.”

Occupational disease remains the leading cause of work-related deaths in B.C., according to Marra, and this is largely due to asbestos exposure from decades ago.

He said WorkSafeBC remains committed to using education, consultation and enforcement strategies to improve workplace health and safety across the province.

Ammonia safety has been a priority for WorkSafeBC since the fatal gas leak at Fernie Memorial Arena in 2017.

Federal MP Wayne Stetski paid tribute to local victims, as well as the three CP Rail employees, Dylan Paradis, Andrew Dockrell and Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer, who were killed when a train derailed east of Field, B.C., in February.

“Today, we remember them and we recommit to making workplace safety a top priority,” said Stetski. “We all have a responsibility to ensure that everyone who goes to work comes home at the end of the day.”

Stetski said governments must continue to improve workplace health and safety standards, and pass laws that ensure employers are held accountable for work-related injuries and deaths.

These must keep pace with evidence and research on workplace hazards, he added.

“Politicians also have an important role to play in ensuring workers are safe. As a member of the NDP, I stand strong with our unions, our workers, their families and all communities across Canada,” he said.

On Friday, high school students also honoured fallen workers and learned the importance of workplace safety, with 175 schools across B.C. taking part in the Day of Mourning BC Schools Project this year.

“We can’t change the past, we can affect the future. What we do now protects the workers of today and our children, who are workers of tomorrow,” said Marra.

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United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9346 Health and Safety Chair, Alex Hanson, addresses the crowd gathered for the National Day of Mourning memorial ceremony at Titan Park in Sparwood, Sunday. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Well-wishers, led by bagpipe player Jim Walgren and the Elkview Operations mine rescue team, march from Centennial Square to Titan Park on the National Day of Mourning, Sunday. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

The Elkview Operations mine rescue team. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

WorkSafeBC Occupational Safety Officer Jack Marra. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Member for Kootenay-Columbia Wayne Stetski. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Wreaths were laid at the foot of the miners memorial wall on Sunday. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

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