Workplace safety: Day of Mourning ceremony emotional for families, politicians, workers


Peter Kempton was able to bond with his two daughters by watching a Blue Jays game next to them on the couch or taking them out to pick wildflowers by the side of the road.

Professionally, he was a licensed mechanic who died in 2013 after the car he was working on at a Dartmouth auto shop caught fire and exploded.

“For me, workplace safety is more than a number, it’s more than a statistic,” said one of his daughters, Shannon Kempton, during the Day of Mourning ceremony Saturday at Province House in Halifax that paid respect to workers who have been killed, injured or suffered work-related illness.

“Not only did my dad’s death take him from me, but it took away my sense of security and some of the innocence I still had,” said Kempton, who is a volunteer with Threads of Life, a support association for families affected by workplace tragedies.

“I thought that my dad was invincible and he’d always be there when I needed him, but in one fateful moment he was torn away from our family and things would never be the same.”

Every year on April 28, representatives of the labour movement and government join family members of workers to mark the Day of Mourning.

Other ceremonies were scheduled to be held Saturday in Sydney, Kentville, Yarmouth, Bridgewater and Trenton. The events in the province coincided with commemorations in many countries.

The theme can be summed up as every worker has the right to return home safe at the end of each day, but progress can be relative.

“Last year, there were five Nova Scotians who went to work that never came home due to an acute injury,” said Stuart MacLean, CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia.

“Another 16 died as a result of occupational diseases and other health-related issues.”

MacLean singled out the fishing sector as showing signs of improvement after the Miss Ally went down in 2013 off the coast of Nova Scotia, claiming five lives.

“Out of tragedy, that sector has responded. The leaders in that sector have moved from knowing about safety to caring about safety, and I actually believe that that’s the most important thing.”

An emotional Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis took several seconds to compose himself before beginning his remarks.

“I will tell you that under no circumstance should workplace safety ever be compromised,” said Kousoulis.

“Every time I talk about the importance of workplace safety, I’m reminded that it is not enough to simply hope that occupational health and safety will improve on its own.

“It’s about action, it’s about working together, and it’s about ensuring that any employer who compromises the safety of their employees is held accountable for their reckless actions. It’s about ensuring we do everything we can to spare another family from pain.”

Gary Burrill, leader of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party, is also an ordained United Church of Canada minister. With that position has come some perspective.

“I have been called upon to officiate more times than I would like to tell you at the funeral observances of those who in industrial accidents have lost their lives,” Burrill said.

At such events, he said, talking about social policy or labour legislation is not appropriate.

“This moment, this National Day of Mourning, is exactly the moment when such truths should be lifted out of the silence of grief and be publicly and clearly spoken.

“This is exactly the moment to say that any company that cuts corners and disregards the well-being of its workers is a company that deserves society’s greatest condemnation.”

Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union, referred to a workplace safety incident that made the news last week. A pregnant nurse was injured after being attacked while working at the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth.

“Fortunately, she is OK, as is her baby, but it could have been different,” he said.

“For 21 hard-working Nova Scotians, it was different.”

Kempton said that everyone potentially has a role to play in promoting safety over productivity.

“Every time I see another workplace death, I worry for all those people being affected at that moment, the families that have been forced on the same path that my family’s facing,” she said.

“Don’t be afraid to speak up and have your safety concerns heard. Don’t be afraid to be that safety person because, trust me, no one wants to get the call that you won’t be coming home.”



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