WorkSafeBC accepted the highest number of workplace death claims in seven years in 2021, as exposure to disease-causing materials continues to drive fatalities.
The workplace compensation company marked the Day of Mourning Thursday (April 28) with the release of its latest statistics, revealing that 161 B.C. residents died from a workplace injury or disease last year. That’s up from 151 in 2020 and 140 in 2019.
Of those in 2021, 149 were men and 12 were women. Two were younger than 25.
The industries hardest hit were general construction with 28 deaths, transportation and public administration with 20 deaths each, and metal and non-metallic mineral products with 16 deaths.
The vast majority, 53, occurred in Greater Vancouver, with numbers below 10 in the rest of the province’s regions.
Of the total, 99 deaths were due to disease, and 62 were due to injuries.
For the first time, WorkSafeBC accounted 13 of the disease-caused deaths to exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Another 53 were as a result of asbestos exposure.
Al Johnson, WorkSafeBC’s head of prevention services, said disease – particularly caused by asbestos – has been the leading causing of death since about 2007.
From 2007 to 2020, 831 people died of asbestos exposure, ranging between 46 and 76 fatalities a year. By comparison, 301 people died of a motor vehicle incident in the workplace during the same period.
Fortunately, Johnson said, asbestos is no longer allowed to be used as a building material. People dying from it now were likely exposed 10 to 30 years ago, he said. In the coming years, there should be fewer related deaths.
In February, B.C. announced it is moving to make licensing and training mandatory for asbestos removal contractors and workers.
Reducing other types of fatalities will require on the ground action too, Johnson said. The Day of Mourning is an opportunity for employers and employees to refocus on what should be the priority of their workplace: safety.
“It goes beyond a rule book to an actual culture,” Johnson said. Employees need to feel like their safety is more important than pumping out product or turning a profit.
Johnson said workplace’s reactions to COVID-19 is a perfect example of what can be done when employers decide to take action.
He asked that they take a moment on the Day of Mourning to remember those who were lost in 2021, and consider how they can prevent future deaths in their workplaces.
A full list of ceremonies happening in B.C. can be found at dayofmourning.bc.ca.