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Springhill anniversary reminder workplace safety not optional

By Nancy MacCready-Williams

The safe return of the Chilean miners to their families is the best possible outcome to what might have been a horrible tragedy, and it puts an end to their unimaginable ordeal.

And as global media continue to tell this story over the coming months and years, there are also important messages for all of us.

Tragedies underground are all too familiar to Nova Scotians. Too many of us know someone, or our parents knew someone, who went to work underground and didn’t come back up.

Today marks the anniversary of the Springhill bump, one of several mining disasters forever etched in our province’s psyche, including Westray in May 1992.

For those too young to remember, the Oct. 23, 1958, mining disaster was the most severe "bump" or underground earthquake in North American mining history. There were 174 miners deep in the No. 2 mine at the time of the bump.

A province and a nation waited with bated breath as rescuers toiled to reach those trapped well over two miles below. Some 75 miners were on the surface by Oct. 24. Six days later, on Oct. 30, 12 more were rescued. Miraculously, on Nov. 1, another group of survivors was found. But there would be no more.

In all, 100 miners were trapped but eventually rescued; 74 men lost their lives. Families and a town were devastated. Coal had been the economic lifeblood of Springhill for generations, with sons of sons having worked in the coal mines since the early 1880s. Overnight, wives became widows, children were left fatherless, and a way of life ended.

Coal mining is an industry rife with stories of tragic disaster and heroic rescue efforts to this day. The Springhill bump may have happened 52 years ago, but the fortitude of those miners and the perseverance of their rescuers should serve as a reminder that we must never stop in our pursuit of a Nova Scotia safe and secure from workplace injury.

Workplace injury and tragedy are not always this high profile, and they don’t happen only in the mining industry. They happen all around us, every single day. One in 10 Nova Scotians is injured on the job each year.

We must be persistent. While we’re making progress, our research shows that half of Nova Scotians feel injuries in the workplace are inevitable. This needs to change. More emphatically, it has to change. Workplace injury is not an inevitable part of going to work.

No one should have to experience the anguish of a loved one not coming home after a day on the job. Nor should anyone be unable to do the things that make their life whole because they were hurt at work.

At the WCB, we are working to raise awareness of workplace injury and foster behaviour change in the workplace.

Today, I encourage you to pause for a moment and consider workplace injury’s impact on our province. I also ask you to consider what you can do — as an employer, a worker, a parent, a brother, sister or a friend — to create a culture where safety is not an option, but the way we live and work.

 “Springhill anniversary reminder workplace safety not optional“ appeared as an Op-Ed in the Chronicle Herald, Saturday, October 23, 2010.