Day of Mourning 2020
Every April 28th we pause to honour the memory of workers who have lost their lives on the job, to think of the many thousands injured or made ill by workplace conditions, and to consider the impact on their families and our communities.
The National Day of Mourning, or Day of Remembrance, is observed in over 100 nations by families and friends, advocates, unions, progressive employers and regulators.
This year we think especially of those impacted by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak and the lessons learned from the SARS-CoV-1 outbreak of 2003. All workers and all members of the community are now at risk of contracting coronavirus disease (COVID-19), but especially first responders, healthcare (including long term care and home care) workers, food service workers and others likely to come into contact with infected individuals.
In facing this threat, it is vitally important that the lessons of the past not be forgotten. In the 2007 report of the SARS Commission, Mr. Justice Archie Campbell emphasized the importance of the precautionary principle in making decisions regarding worker and public health and safety, echoing the earlier findings of the Krever inquiry into Canada’s blood system that “it is inappropriate to require proof of causation beyond a reasonable doubt before taking steps to avert the threat.”
Mr. Justice Campbell specifically referenced
the debate during SARS over whether SARS was transmitted by large droplets or through airborne particles. The point is not who was right and who was wrong in this debate. When it comes to worker safety in hospitals, we should not be driven by the scientific dogma of yesterday or even the scientific dogma of today. We should be driven by the precautionary principle that reasonable steps to reduce risk should not await scientific certainty.
He noted that at Vancouver General Hospital “health workers automatically go to the highest level of precautions” when dealing with a respiratory disease of unknown characteristics “and then scale down as the situation is clarified.” There, the SARS outbreak was effectively contained at the hospital.
In Ontario, on the other hand,
there was a systemic failure to recognize the precautionary principle in health worker safety, and in the identification and diagnosis of a respiratory illness that mimicked the symptoms of other, better-known diseases. Amid this systemic absence of the precautionary principle, it is not surprising that in Ontario, unlike in Vancouver, SARS caused such devastation, infecting 375 people, including 169 health workers, and killing 44, including two nurses and a physician.
SARS-CoV-2 is much more dangerous, with more than 15,000 confirmed infections in Ontario so far, affecting over 2000 health care workers. It is vitally important that all decision makers apply the precautionary principle in all decisions regarding the development of proper work practices and procedures and the use of Personal Protective Equipment.
OHCOW stands ready to support workers, unions, Joint Health and Safety Committees, and workplaces large and small in their work during this period.
For more information on the current state of scientific investigations into the nature of SARS-CoV-2 and safe work procedures, see Response to Downgrade of PPE Precautions for COVID-19.
OHCOW’s Migrant Farmworker Program staff have also compiled information on keeping Temporary Foreign Agricultural Workers healthy and safe in the midst of the pandemic.
To speak to an occupational health professional at one of our local clinics, call 1-877-817-0336.
For a copy of Mr. Justice Campbell’s SARS Commission Report, see Ontario SARS Commission Report -Archive 2008.
For general information on preventing occupational disease:
Prevent Occupational Disease (Developed by OHCOW and CCOHS)
MOURN FOR THE DEAD. FIGHT FOR THE LIVING.