Dan Gray admits that once he had a family, safety was an even bigger priority when he went to work as a local firefighter.
The president of IAFF Local 3253 held his toddler son, Jax, in his arms as he listened to other speakers at Langley City’s ceremony to mark the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.
“I guess workplace safety it’s always important, but I think it’s just one of those things you think about even more so once you have a family at home,” Gray said at the Thursday morning ceremony.
It’s why firefighters do so much training and so much effort is focused on safety, he explained.
“Having a family definitely adds another level to it for sure,” Gray said.
The memorial event is held in many communities each April 28. In 2019, 925 workplace fatalities were recorded in Canada, according to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada.
Langley City Mayor Val van den Broek said COVID has made it impossible to hold an in-person event for the past two years.
”It has affected all of us in different way,” she said about the virus. “And it has served as a reminder that safety is not only about tools and gear but about attitudes, awareness, workplace culture and commitment.”
Also speaking at the morning ceremony was CUPE Local 2058 president Andrew Brown who said more has to be done to keep workers safe. Workers continue to be killed at “alarming rates,” Brown said.
“Just under 1,000 workers a year are still dying in the workplace, and that’s not factoring in the ones compensation boards aren’t recognizing,” he said.
He said prevention is key, and CUPE is trying to increase education about workers rights and safety.
Gray explained the workplace hazards that firefighters face include cancer and issues with mental health.
“When the bells ring, our members always respond. It doesn’t matter who, where or what time,” he said. “However, unfortunately this job comes with consequences.”
While some firefighters lose their lives at fire or motor vehicle rescues, most die from other causes. Within the firefighting profession, there’s a growing recognition and acceptance that the job greatly increases the chance of getting cancer.
There are 13 cancers that firefighters can be diagnosed with that are now presumed to have been caused by the job, with an attached latency period for each. Recently ovarian, cervical and penile cancers were added to that list.
“The largest numbers of men and women were killed by occupational cancers presumed to be from this profession and those who unfortunately took their own lives by suicide,” Gray noted.
Those assembled for Thursday morning’s ceremony shared a moment of silence to honour workers who have died on the job.
When the Canadian Labour Congress held the first National Day of Mourning ceremony in 1985, Canada became the first country to formally commemorate workers killed in the workplace.
In 1991, the federal government passed the Workers Mourning Act, and the following year, British Columbia proclaimed April 28 as the Day of Mourning. Today, it is recognized in 100 countries around the world.
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