Commentary: Why is Day of Mourning Important?

Day of Mourning is recognized at the Hatheway Pavilion (Lily Lake) in Saint John’s Rockwood Park. Image: WorkSafeNB

Huddle publishes commentaries from groups and individuals on important business issues facing the Maritimes. These commentaries do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Huddle.

By Tim Petersen, acting president and CEO, WorkSafeNB

Sadly, 26 years after the first Day of Mourning was enacted in Canada, workers are still being killed, injured or suffering occupational illnesses. In 2016, nearly 10,500 New Brunswickers were hurt on the job, eight of them fatally. Another eight died from previous years’ injuries or occupational diseases.

At WorkSafeNB, we know only too well the devastation caused by these tragedies. One of the workers killed last year was the brother of a WorkSafeNB employee. These tragedies affect families, friends, co-workers and employers – they affect the community as a whole.

That’s why we work so hard to uphold our vision of healthy and safe workplaces in New Brunswick. It’s why we focus on prevention, through education and enforcement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

WorkSafeNB wants to ensure that all workers understand their right to refuse unsafe work, and the responsibility to speak up when they see a co-worker practising unsafe behaviour. This is the internal responsibility system – it means we all have a role to play in health and safety at the workplace. Each and every one of us is responsible for ensuring that our co-workers, our employees and our neighbours make it home safely at the end of each shift.

Next month, from May 7-13, we recognize North American Occupational Safety and Health Week. NAOSH is a partnership of Canada, the United States and Mexico, working together to promote the benefits of investing in occupational health and safety and the prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses.

NAOSH Week’s theme is “Make Safety a Habit” and the Day of Mourning is the appropriate time to commit to doing just that.

Making safety a habit means doing whatever we can to stop any unsafe behaviour – whether it’s our own or a co-worker’s. It means refusing to use any machinery, equipment or vehicles at work without the proper training. It means skipping the shortcut, locking out machinery and equipment, wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment. It means being aware of any hazards and risks associated with our work, and how to avoid them.

When we don’t make safety a habit, workers get hurt. Workers get sick. Workers die.

And it is because of this that we recognize the National Day of Mourning.

While WorkSafeNB and other organizations and events, such as NAOSH Week, help focus on preventing workplace accidents, organizations such as Threads of Life support those who have been touched by a workplace tragedy.

On Sunday, May 7, I ask you to consider participating in the Steps for Life Walk. This is a major fundraiser for Threads of Life, an organization dedicated to supporting the healing of those families impacted by a workplace fatality or life-altering occupational illness or injury. A walk will be held in both Fredericton and Saint John, and you can visit our website or contact Threads for Life for more information.

I am proud to say that many WorkSafeNB employees participate in these walks, showing their support and solidarity for this wonderful organization.

And although the work Threads of Life does is comforting and necessary, we would prefer that there was no need for such an organization. We don’t want families to have to suffer the pain associated with workplace tragedy.

We owe it to the workers of New Brunswick and their families to be committed to healthy and safe workplaces. And we owe it to them to remember.

WorkSafeNB asks that you support these workers and their families by observing the Day of Mourning on April 28.

For a list of ceremonies taking place across the province please visit our website at

Want to submit a commentary to Huddle? Contact us at [email protected]