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Westray Act failing slain workers 20 years after adoption

May 9, 2024
A graphic showing the monument of Westray Miners Memorial Park in the background, and text saying: 32 years since the Westray mine explosion. No more Westrays, May 9, 1992 - May 9, 2024

TORONTO – On May 9, 1992, 26 workers at the Westray mine in Pictou County, N.S., tragically lost their lives in an underground explosion due to corporate negligence towards workplace health and safety. The United Steelworkers union reiterates its demands for the full application of the Westray Act, which may hold employers criminally responsible for workplace deaths and accidents on the job. 

“Today, we remember the 26 miners who perished 32 years ago because of what a judge described as ‘a complex mosaic of actions, omissions, mistakes, incompetence, apathy, cynicism, stupidity and neglect,'” said Marty Warren, Canadian National Director of the United Steelworkers union. “We owe it to them, their families and to all workers to ensure that such tragedies never happen again.” 

The Westray Act, passed in 2004 after a tireless decade-long campaign led by the United Steelworkers union, provides a legal framework for prosecuting negligent employers under Canada’s Criminal Code. However, despite its existence, the law remains largely unenforced, leaving too many negligent employers off the hook and countless workers vulnerable to unsafe working conditions. 

“Since the enactment of the Westray Act, over 18,000 workers have lost their lives due to workplace hazards. Many thousands more have had their lives forever altered by workplace injury and occupational illness,” Warren added. “This staggering number highlights the urgent need for robust enforcement of the law. Every worker deserves to return home safely to their families at the end of their workday.” 

The Steelworkers reiterate their call for immediate and meaningful action, including: 

  • The appointment of dedicated investigators and prosecutors for workplace deaths, along with mandatory, standardized training for such positions. 
  • Having Crown attorneys educated, trained and directed to apply the Westray amendments to the Criminal Code. 
  • Mandatory training for police and health and safety regulators, supported by the necessary resources, on the proper application of the Westray amendments. 
  • Mandatory procedures, protocols and co-ordination in every jurisdiction for police, Crown prosecutors and health and safety regulators. 

“As we commemorate the lives lost at the Westray mine, let us reaffirm our commitment to building safer workplaces for all. Together, we will honor their memory by ensuring that their sacrifices were not in vain,” concluded Warren. 

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Media Contact

For more information, please contact: 

Sylvia Boyce
United Steelworkers union Health, Safety and Environment Department

Shannon Devine
United Steelworkers union Communications

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