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London, Ont., marks National Day of Mourning following tragic year


A particularly tragic year is shining a larger spotlight on workplace health and safety as the London, Ont., region marks the National Day of Mourning.

April 28 is dedicated each year in recognition of those across Canada who have died, been seriously injured, or become ill on the job or in relation to their work.

Read more: Families frustrated with justice process in Alberta workplace deaths

In a virtual ceremony Wednesday morning hosted by the London District Labour Council, attendees remembered five lives lost in the past twelve months and pushed for change to better protect workers.

Construction workers John Martens, 21, and Henry Harder, 26, were killed in Teeple Terrace partial building collapse on Dec. 11, 2020.

Brian Beattie, 57, a registered nurse at Kensington Village; an unnamed PSW with Sisters of St. Joseph, and Yassin Dabeh, 19, who worked with a cleaning service that was brought into Middlesex Terrace all died of COVID-19 within the last 12 months.

Countless others have become sick or injured on the job, including construction worker Jacob Hurl, who was among four workers injured in the fatal Teeple Terrace collapse.

Read more: London, Ont., building collapse survivor on his way to walking again

Hurl returned to the scene on Wednesday morning to place an orange vest at the site after previous memorials were taken down.

“I just think that it’s wrong that they don’t have anything up,” he told Global News. “Something should be here, like, I don’t know what that is — a plaque, a vest, a hardhat, something.”

A Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development investigation into the incident is underway.

A spokesperson told Global News earlier this week that “if a prosecution for violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act is warranted, charges will be laid within one year of the date of the offence.”

Click to play video: Oil worker infected with COVID-19 angry about workplace conditions

Hurl says he’s lucky to be alive, “but there are still two dead workers … We could have prevented that.”

He’s also calling for more attention and possible action to address deaths on construction sites.

Read more: Entire Trans Mountain expansion work halted until 2021 after workers killed, injured on the job

On average, around 20 workers have died while working on construction sites across Canada each year since 2014, according to a CBC article referencing Ontario Labour Ministry statistics.

“If 20 teachers or 20 politicians or any other kind of profession died — if 20 of them died every year, there’d be something done about it. But just because we’re construction workers, I feel like we’re just kind of throwaways or we’re not as cared about,” Hurl said.

Click to play video: Man seriously injured in North York industrial accident

Speaking at the labour council event, United Way Elgin Middlesex CEO Kelly Ziegner said the last twelve months have been marked with tragedy.

“As I reflect upon the past year, one thing that has come into sharp focus is that the work of the labour movement is more relevant and more important than ever,” she said.

“At United Way, we believe that all people deserve a fair shot at a good life and no one should fear for their life while trying their best to provide for themselves and their families. We’re so grateful for our partners in labour that are leading that charge every day, but especially on this day when we remember those lost and injured.”

Read more: Ontario’s COVID-19 paid sick leave program to include 3 days for workers

MPP Terence Kernaghan said no one should go to work worrying about whether or not they’ll come home.

“Every day across Canada almost three people die at work and countless people are injured. But this is put into sharp perspective because of COVID-19. It’s put the world, our workplaces and our lives in jeopardy.”

For months, doctors, health-care workers and advocates have continually called for a provincial regime for provincial sick days.

Kernaghan and other local NDP MPPs repeated those calls during Wednesday morning’s event.

Premier Doug Ford said last week that a plan was in the works and on Wednesday afternoon his government announced workers who have been impacted by COVID-19 will be able to access three paid sick days.

–With files from Global News’ Andrew Graham and Nick Westoll

Click to play video: Ontario introduces paid sick leave program in response to COVID-19 pandemic