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National Day of Mourning

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The National Day of Mourning, held annually in Canada on April 28, is dedicated to remembering those who have lost their lives, or suffered injury or illness on the job or due to a work-related tragedy.

Statistics and beyond
The most recent statistics from the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) tell us that in 2015, 852 workplace deaths were recorded in Canada. Among those dead were four young workers aged fifteen to nineteen years; and another eleven workers aged twenty to twenty-four years.
Add to these fatalities the 232,629 claims accepted for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease, including 8,155 from young workers aged fifteen to nineteen, and the fact that these statistics only include what is reported and accepted by the compensation boards, and it is safe to say that the total number of workers impacted is even higher.
What these numbers don't show is just how many people are directly affected by these workplace tragedies. Each worker death impacts the loved ones, families, friends and coworkers they leave behind, changing all of their lives forever.

The National Day of Mourning is not only a day to remember and honour those lives lost or injured due to a workplace tragedy, but also a day to renew the commitment to improve health and safety in the workplace and prevent further injuries, illnesses and deaths.
On April 28th the Canadian flag will fly at half-mast on Parliament Hill and on all federal government buildings. Employers and workers will observe Day of Mourning in a variety of ways. Some light candles, lay wreaths, wear commemorative pins, ribbons or black armbands, and pause for a moment of silence at 11:00 a.m.

In 1991, eight years after the day of remembrance was launched by the Canadian Labour Congress, the Parliament of Canada passed the Workers Mourning Day Act making April 28 an official Day of Mourning. Today the Day of Mourning has since spread to about 100 countries around the world and is recognized as Workers’ Memorial Day, and as International Workers' Memorial Day by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
It is the hope of CCOHS that the annual observance of this day will help strengthen the resolve to establish safe and healthy conditions in the workplace, and prevent further injuries and deaths. As much as this is a day to remember the dead, it is also a call to protect the living and make work a place to thrive.
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Occupational exposure
Occupational exposure occurs when a person is exposed to potentially harmful chemical, physical or biological substances at work. People who work with cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) on the job may be exposed to much higher levels of these substances than they would be at home or in their community. Since higher exposure can lead to greater cancer risk, eliminating or reducing exposure is important in the primary prevention of cancer.
Current scientific evidence suggests that being exposed to cancer-causing substances on the job is responsible for a small percentage of cancers. But for those workers, their exposure and risk of cancer is much higher than the average person’s.

Exposure and level of risk
Occupational exposure is any contact between the human body and a potentially harmful substance that occurs in the workplace. The highest risk occurs when body surfaces, such as the skin, nasal passages and lungs, come in direct contact with the carcinogen. The cancer-causing substance may be absorbed or inhaled. Specific exposures are related to the type of work and the safety precautions taken to reduce exposure.
Potential health risks may also be associated with how certain industries provide services or production. For example, researchers are studying the impact of shift work (working outside the normal workday, often at nighttime) and how it may be associated with cancer risk in workers.
The level of risk depends on the amount and length of exposure, how powerful the carcinogen, the presence of other risk factors and a person’s susceptibility. Some workers may have greater and longer exposures to harmful chemicals in the workplace and their risk of cancer may be a lot higher.

What you can do
If you’re concerned about exposure to a potential cancer-causing substance or would like more information about potential hazards in your workplace, contact the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety or the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333.

What workers can do
Workers should do the following to help reduce their risk from occupational exposures:
  • Follow the employer’s occupational health and safety instructions when using, storing and disposing of hazardous materials.
  • Use all the protective clothing and equipment provided by the employer to help minimize the risk of exposure to potentially harmful substances.
  • Follow government and manufacturers guidelines for handling harmful substances.
    • Materials in the workplace have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). This document contains information on the potential hazards, health effects of exposure and how to work safely with the product. These guidelines are printed on the packaging and are posted in the workplace.
    • Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) identifies the hazards of a chemical and provides information on the safe use of hazardous materials. WHMIS information is provided through product labels, MSDS information and worker education programs.
  • Participate in training programs and use this information to work safely with hazardous materials. Tell employers when labels on containers have been accidentally removed or if the label is no longer readable.
  • Report accidental exposure immediately.
Occupational research studies have given employers the knowledge to take actions aimed at reducing or preventing exposures to carcinogens in the workplace. Overall, the risk of exposure in the workplace today is much less than in the past because occupational health and safety practices have greatly reduced or eliminated exposure to cancer-causing materials.

Suggested links for more information

Reducing occupational exposures
These organizations work to promote the health and safety of workers, which includes making sure they are protected from occupational exposure to carcinogenic substances.
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety 
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC
Health Canada Occupational Health & Safety
Health and Safety Executive (UK) 
World Health Organization – Global Plan of Action on Workers’ Health

Information about workers’ rights in Canada 
Find out about your rights concerning health, safety and compensation for work-related injury and illness. 
Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada 
Canadian Labour Congress 
Canadian Labour Code – Section 125.1 outlines the duties of employers to protect employees from exposure to hazardous substances

Research about occupational exposures
These groups do research on occupational exposures and their impact on the cancer burden in Canada and internationally. 
Occupational Cancer Research Centre 
CAREX Canada 
International Agency for Research on Cancer 
National Toxicology Program (US)

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Have you or has someone you know been diagnosed with a cancer that was linked to occupational exposure?
  • Posted Fri 28 Apr 2017 11:27 AM EDT

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