Day of Mourning, April 28. One is too many. #DayofMourningI was a university student when I attended my first Day of Mourning ceremony. On the morning of April 28, 2002, I stood at the local Day of Mourning ceremony unsure of what to expect. My younger brother had spent the previous 11 months in hospital after suffering severe electrical burns at his summer job. I remember wondering if I should be there, since … my brother survived. At the time, I didn’t know the history or full significance of the ceremony, and I was afraid I’d fall apart if tried to ask. Throughout the ceremony, I cried as quietly as I could, and when the time came, I placed a red rose on the monument. For Lewis. For our parents. For me. For the outward ripple of family and friends devastated by such senseless suffering. For his hopes and dreams and future so sharply cut. For my baby brother, a young man now confined to a wheelchair. For the pain he’d suffered already, and for his uncertain future.

Now, having worked in health and safety, and as a family member and staff of Threads of Life, I’ve had the honour of hearing, witnessing, and sharing in the stories of hundreds of other workers and their families. I feel a heaviness that comes with knowing how many others have joined me in observing April 28th because they too know this reality. It is my most sincere wish to say: I wish none of you had cause to join this “club”.

The international observance of April 28th as a day of mourning for workers killed, injured, or made ill by their job began here in Canada. In 1984, unions in Sudbury, Ontario, adopted the day as one to publicly acknowledge workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths, and the Canadian Labour Congress officially declared the day of remembrance. The date of April 28th was chosen to reflect the anniversary of the day Ontario passed the Workers’ Compensation Act in 1914. On April 28, 1991, Canada recognized its first National Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace: a day where flags fly at half-mast, and we hold ceremonies across the country to recognize the lives needlessly lost, and the tremendous suffering of those left in the wake of workplace tragedy. In the years since, more than 80 other countries have also adopted the observance known widely as Workers’ Memorial Day.

The majority of ceremonies are organized by local unions and labour councils. If you are looking for information on your local Day of Mourning ceremony, we’ve provided several helpful links on our website. Family members, you are welcome to contact us for assistance – we will do our best to find out where your closest ceremony will take place.

I’ve attended a Day of Mourning ceremony nearly every year since that first one in 2002. I attend in memory of my late brother. I attend for all of the families I’ve met and friends I’ve made through Threads of Life. I attend to acknowledge and honour those who are working to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths: safety professionals, unions, employers, government officials. Standing at a Day of Mourning ceremony, the faces of those who are working to prevent future workplace tragedies are as present to me as the faces of the workers and families living in the aftermath of a workplace tragedy. On April 28th, I stand with each of you attending your local Day of Mourning ceremony because you’ve known the grief, trauma, and profound pain of loss from a workplace tragedy.

April 28th brings together both past and future. We are honouring lives lost and forever marked, but it is also a chance to reaffirm our commitment to prevent future workplace injury, occupational disease, and death from both. It’s a day where every single one of us has the opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been over the past year, and reaffirm our commitment going forward. There are varying opinions on how to arrive at the goal to get every worker home safely at the end of each day, but I think we can all agree that we all have a role in making this reality possible. From education to enforcement, from shared stories to safety systems, from safety by design to establishing and maintaining safe work procedures, we all have a role in prevention.

Sarah Wheelan