In the News April 28
April 28 Day of Mourning
Patrick Colford, Construction
Patrick Colford is an Industrial Insulator in New Brunswick
Last year, in New Brunswick, we had 13 workers who died of workplace injuries or diseases. And of course, the number of workers who get injured or are made ill at work is a lot higher. We all know that accidents happen, but a lot of what I am seeing and hearing is a lack of workers being properly trained. I remember this case that happened in 2011, where a young 17-year-old worker was working for a big company in Grand Falls and he was electrocuted while using a floor polisher and died. He was not properly trained to use the floor polisher. This case came to court and the company paid a fine and walked away.
Huge companies are killing workers and are spending pennies and are moving along with their business. We have the Westray Act and the campaign labour is waging, “Kill a Worker! Go to Jail,” but we are barely starting to see some of these cases actually come to court, with people being held responsible. Companies and supervisors have to be held accountable. If they know that they are going to be criminally liable, they will do their due diligence to ensure that safety is number one and workers are well trained. I am talking especially about young people joining the workforce, who are getting injured because of lack of training. Focus has to be on training our workforce, ensuring that our workers come home, with their health being in the same state as when they came in.
I work in a unionized environment and our training is better than in the non-unionized sector, and for the most part we insist on being properly trained. As workers we need to look out for each other. I work in insulation and a lot of the older generation worked with asbestos. Asbestos was considered to be safe at one time. We have so many of our members who have asbestosis and other diseases related to working with asbestos. I work in removing asbestos. It’s part of my trade. We are fully suited up, we have masks on and have other safety equipment and even that is still not foolproof because some of the asbestos fibers that are in the air can still get in under your mask. Besides, the only time we remove asbestos is if there’s an issue with the asbestos, if there’s a leak, if it is breaking away or chipping away. But by the time that’s discovered, we have workers employed in these facilities, they’re walking around unmasked. They don’t even know that there’s an asbestos leak until we come along and discover it. These people are working in “dusty conditions,” but these dusty conditions could just be asbestos fibers.
As far as insulators are concerned, I have been trained through my union about safety procedures.
But if you take a company that just comes in and starts asbestos removal work and hires workers and does not train them and does not teach them anything, this is where it becomes extremely dangerous. Workers are exposed and down the road they may get asbestosis and they may not be able to track it back. Asbestosis works very slowly in your body and can take years before it shows.
Safety is critical in two main ways. You need to wear the proper equipment and if somebody tells you that the material is not asbestos, you cannot take their word for it because you can’t see asbestos with the naked eye. It has to be tested and put under a microscope by trained professionals.
Every worker deserves to come home after work healthy and safe and we must not be afraid of using our right to refuse unsafe work. We have to ensure that we are properly trained for the task we are about to do.
Workers’ Forum, posted April 28, 2022.