May justice come from tragedy

I will never forget waking up on May 9, 1992, to news that 26 miners were trapped underground following a massive explosion at the Westray mine.

Many Nova Scotians remember the heartbreaking images of families waiting at the mine opening for news of their loved ones. We all shared in their terrible grief when we later learned that their worst fears were confirmed.

Westray is forever engrained in our minds as a failure of workplace safety. It brought to light inherent weaknesses of workplace safety practices and the legislation of the time — not just in Nova Scotia, but right across Canada.

From that disaster came Bill C-45, the Westray bill, which allows criminal charges to be laid for workplace safety violations.

But since C-45 became law, criminal charges have only been laid a handful of times in Canada, with very few convictions. In Nova Scotia, there had been no charges laid at all, until last week.

On Sept. 10, criminal charges were laid on an autobody shop for the death of a mechanic, Peter Kempton, who died after the car he was working on suddenly caught fire as he was welding beneath it.

This is a historic milestone, and one that many feel was a long time coming. 

When someone dies at work, something has gone horribly wrong.

I speak with far too many people who experience this tragedy.

I speak with wives, mothers and family members who just want the person they hugged goodbye in the morning to walk through the door for supper, like they had every day before.

What happened to Kempton was a preventable, unthinkable tragedy. And although it’s true we have seen improvements, zero is the only acceptable number of workplace fatalities.

We at the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia commend our Workplace Safety Strategy partners at the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, the Halifax Regional Police, the RCMP and the prosecutors who are holding people accountable for workplace safety. The laying of criminal charges under the Westray bill for the first time in our province speaks to an evolving safety culture.

Our hearts go out to Kempton’s family, and to every family that has lost a loved one to workplace tragedy.

May these charges send a strong message. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and it is not enough to simply know about workplace safety. You must truly care about it, and do everything within your power to keep yourself, your co-workers, and your employees safe.