Skip to main content
Home » Industry & Business » Workplace Safety » How Canada’s National Day of Mourning Came About
Workplace Safety

How Canada’s National Day of Mourning Came About

Sponsored by:
Sponsored by:

Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull

Executive Director, Alberta Workers’ Health Centre, & Member & Co-Chair, National Health and Safety Committee, CUPE

Troy Winters

Senior Officer of Health and Safety, CUPE

Since 1963, the Canadian Union of Public Employees has played a critical role in bringing worker health and safety concerns to light. 

April 28 is a day that commemorates workers who have been killed or injured on the job. However, many Canadians may not be aware of the day’s origins and the role of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in bringing it about. In 1983, then CUPE health and safety director Colin Lambert, a former steel worker and miner from Sudbury, proposed the idea of having a day to remember workers who were killed or injured on the job. CUPE members, and soon after the Canadian Labour Congress, were quick to endorse it and, in 1991, the House of Commons passed a private member’s bill naming April 28 as the Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace.


Preventing workplace fatalities and injuries

The National Day of Mourning is significant for many reasons. “Often these workers just get spoken about as a statistic or a number, but it’s important to remember that these people had families, friends, and people who loved them,” says Troy Winters, Senior Officer of Health and Safety at CUPE. “The day is also a call to action to try to improve both the workplace and the overall systems that influence the health and safety culture.” 

Roughly 1,000 people are killed on the job each year in Canada, “but we believe that statistics around workplace injuries and fatalities are greatly underreported,” says Winters. “The reporting tends to take into account only the occupational diseases, injuries, and illnesses that have actually been recorded and accepted by the compensation system and these vary across the provinces.” 

Education programs for workers, resources for employers

To help prevent workplace fatalities and injuries, CUPE offers a variety of resources to both workers and employers. “Our dedicated staff and specialists support members with a range of programs and services on health and safety training, including education on workers’ rights to refuse unsafe work,” says Winters. “On the employer side, we help educate them on their responsibilities in providing safe workplaces.”  

CUPE also lobbies for better health and safety laws and more worker involvement in formulating them. “We sit on technical and advisory committees to encourage government and sector groups to improve their practices and partake in the development of standards to ensure more meaningful participation from workers into the development of these policies and practices,” says Winters.

The importance of mental and psychological health 

CUPE started incorporating mental health into its programs in 2011 and recently produced a Mental Health Toolkit — a welcome evolution, according to Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull, Executive Director of the Alberta Workers’ Health Centre, a non-profit workplace health and safety education organization. Matsunaga-Turnbull is also a CUPE member and Co-Chair of the CUPE National Health and Safety Committee.

“Mental health is becoming one of the top concerns among workers, and I feel this helps lift the stigma around talking about it,” he says. “Many frontline workers, especially in the health and education sectors, face increased threats of violence and burnout, and are getting mental health injuries as a result, so my hope is that they’ll take advantage of these educational tools.” 

See CUPE’s work in action at or learn more about the history of the National Day of Mourning at

Next article