One hundred years, one inch at a time
Aug. 26, 2017 - Two significant events occurred in July 1917. One involved the tragic loss of life and made headlines for weeks. The other was barely noticed, but one hundred years later has been pivotal in saving countless lives and continues to grow in influence and impact.
At 7am on July 25, 270 workers started a shift at the Dominion No. 12 Colliery, the coal mine in New Waterford, N.S. At 7:30, an explosion rocked levels 6 and 7 resulting in the deaths of 65 men and boys between the ages of 14 and 65. Like so many workplaces of the era, working conditions were deplorable including poor ventilation and other factors that also impacted the lives of those lucky enough to survive the explosion. Working at a mine could lead to a lifetime of chronic respiratory disease to say nothing of the possibility of serious injury and permanent disability.
Earlier that month on July 17, and without much fanfare, Industrial Accident Prevention Associations (IAPA) was established. Its mission was simple — to make workplaces safer. That year, there were 233 workplace fatalities in Ontario — an astronomical number by today’s standards. But not then.
So many Ontario families knew the heartbreak of a loved one not coming home from work in that era. And that includes mine.
My great grandfather, James Boyle, was killed 104 years ago at Interlake Tissue Mills in Thorold, Ont. He had been working on a mixer that had been purchased from the government after World War I and use to mix ammunition. As he was servicing the machine in preparation for use to mix paper products, the machine blew up, taking his life. My great grandmother, Nelle Boyle, was only the third spouse to receive workman’s compensation benefits as a result of a fatality.
Had an organization like WSPS existed, James Boyle may have known more about the hazards related to the work he was asked to do. He would have known he had the right to refuse unsafe work, and my 13-year-old grandfather — his son — would have continued his school journey and followed his passion to become a doctor instead of quitting school to go to work to help support his mother and sister.
And here we are a century later. Fatalities are way down and workplace health and safety is a growing priority. But it hasn’t been a sprint. While it sometimes feels like we make progress an inch at a time, it really has and continues to add up. Every day WSPS and organizations like it, are in the field working with Ontario businesses to protect workers from harm through training, consulting and a range of other services to ensure their workplaces are safe.
I am grateful for the opportunity to work with an organization that seeks to make sure no child has to feel the pain that my grandfather did. And that workers in Ontario can work without fear, secure in the knowledge that their safety comes first.
Lynn Brownell is the president and CEO of Workplace Safety and Prevention Services.
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