Westray ceremony marks the first time schools a part of the discussion on workplace health and safety

By Joan Wark
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May 9 marked the 25th anniversary of the Westray disaster in Nova Scotia, when an underground methane explosion killed 26 coal miners in 1992. Owned and operated by Curragh Resources, the Westray Coal Mine opened in September 1991, but closed eight months later when the methane explosion killed 26 miners working underground at the time.

For the first time, for this 25th Anniversary ceremony, we invited school students to the Museum of Industry and about 50 students from grades 11 and 12 were on hand to first hear from those who were on site 25 years ago. Members of the ambulance service, fire fighters, along with a draegerman and a miner all told stories of what they witnessed on that day in 1992 as they came on site.

After that presentation, the young people gathered and heard from a panel which was live-streamed into all schools in the province. The panel provided a history of Westray and spoke about occupational health and safety issues that those young adults will face as they start summer jobs and move into the workforce as young workers.

They heard about how in 2003, Parliament passed the “Westray Bill”, to increase legal penalties for corporations and managers who fail to take steps to prevent bodily harm. Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Alberta have all introduced new rules aimed at ensuring safer workplaces.

But despite these important changes, many employers and their representatives still do not face charges that would warrant jail time when a worker is killed on a worksite.  To date only 3 charges across the country have been laid and only one person has gone to Jail.

There were many questions from the young people and many questions came in from kids out in the schools through the live stream. Doing this kind of work with our young people in schools is so important and if we want to change the culture of worker safety, this is the best place to start. We will continue to work with the Nova Scotia Department of Education and the Workers’ Compensation Board in reaching into the schools.

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