Nova Scotia

Day of Mourning ceremony a reminder more work to be done

The Day of Mourning Ceremony in Halifax Sunday remembered those who died in the workplace, and provided an opportunity to remind officials that more needs to be done to protect people on the job.

'Real families are affected...Real lives are being changed forever'

About 80 people gathered on the grounds of Province House for the Day of Mourning ceremony. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Almost 15 years after her husband's death, Marilyn D'Entremont says there's still more to be done to make workplaces safer in Nova Scotia.

D'Entremont's husband, Lewis, was killed while fishing in 2004.

On Sunday, she spoke to a crowd of about 80 people at a ceremony for the Day of Mourning dedicated to remembering those who have died in the workplace.

People get into a routine at work, they do things the same way over and over and are resistant to change, she said. 

"In all trades, they get used to doing things because nothing has happened," she said in an interview. "But I'm here to tell you, things do happen."

Marilyn D'Entremont's husband, Lewis, was killed while fishing in 2004. She spoke to the crowd at the Day of Mourning ceremony in Halifax on April 28, and reminded the provincial government there's still work to be done. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

The number of workplace fatalities went up in Nova Scotia in 2018

Of the 40 reported workplace deaths last year, 14 people died from acute traumatic injuries, such as drownings, falls or car accidents.

The CEO of the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia, Stuart MacLean, called 40 deaths an "extraordinarily high number."

Changes to attitudes about safety

"Even if we had one it would be difficult," he said in an interview. "This is a day to come together, all of us, and renew our pledge to try to keep workplaces as safe as we can."

MacLean said he believes these deaths are preventable. But attitudes and behaviours have to change, he said.

"It's not just the CEO of an organization. It needs to be every individual that makes a different choice about their own safety," he said.

"We won't rest until we have a day when we don't have fatalities."

The Day of Mourning service commemorates those who have died in the workplace. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, which represents 70,000 unionized workers in the province, said in the last eight years the province has had an average of 27 workplace deaths each year.

"We're concerned about that and we need to do more. And people, I think, should be concerned about that as well," he said.

He also wants to see more work done around the Westray Bill — named after the 1992 disaster that killed 26 miners — so that more serious charges can hold people accountable.

Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab was at the ceremony in place of Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis, who was out of the province Sunday.

"It's important to commemorate those people, but also to share our sorrow together as a community," she said.

"It's always important to raise awareness and educate people about workplace safety."

CEO of WCB, Stuart MacLean, speaks at Sunday's ceremony. (Emma Davie/CBC)

MacLean spoke fondly of the work D'Entremont has been doing with Threads of Life, a charity dedicated to supporting families after a workplace fatality, injury or occupational illness.

"When this type of thing takes place, there's a face, a name, a family, a community and broken hearts behind all of these different tragedies," MacLean said.

To those involved in keeping people safe, D'Entremont said: "Don't stop. Persevere."

Her children, Michelle and Marcel D'Entremont, were also at Sunday's ceremony.

"Real families are affected," said Marcel, who was just 15 when his father died. "Real lives are being changed forever. There's got to be some way to mitigate it."

His mother said it's important to know the people affected by these tragedies — and not just the numbers — to make their deaths more real.

D'Entremont said she hopes her story makes people realize each workplace death involves a person, with families and friends, just like her Lewis.