Nova Scotia is a wondrous place full of amazing–and dangerous–places. I visited “Canada’s Ocean Playgound” this summer and came home with a renewed appreciation for labour history and the reality that occupational health and safety missteps often cost workers their lives.
While visiting the world famous Peggy’s Cove I was struck by the profound respect local fishers have for the power of the sea depicted by the sign pictured above. I have always been caught up in romantic notions of the sea and never really stopped to think that, for many, the sea is a workplace; I never really thought of occupational health and safety regulations on the ocean!
I had the opportunity to visit a coal mine in Cape Breton and be escorted underground by a real-life “man of the deeps.” Seventy-two year old Abbie Michalik was our guide and fascinated us with his myriad tales of working underground for many decades–since he was a young boy.
One of Abbie’s amazing stories was about a general strike when the miners and their families suffered great hardship mostly because everyone in Glace Bay depended on the mining company for everything, including food. He told us that the sole gain at the end of this ordeal was a shortened work week and the prohibition against employing minors.
Abbie gave me the impression he thought this was precious little gain for the hardship the striking workers endured. I had exactly the opposite thought; worker’s rights and health and safety standards are achieved slowly and are the result of hardship and dogged determination on the part of those fighting for what they believe to be fair.
What I took from this experience and what I am asking you to consider is that we often take our rights and obligations for granted. We often forget that health and safety standards–the legal requirement that an employer exercise due diligence–have been created after serious, and often fatal, accidents have occurred; these standards have been created in a response to the real harm suffered by a worker.
Take advantage of the wisdom borne of hindsight and out of respect for those who have gone before us–” . . .savour the sea from a distance.”
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