With the stress of rebuilding Fort McMurray and continuing job losses in the oil industry, fighting stigmas towards invisible injuries and pointing out unsafe conditions was a key topic at this year’s National Day of Mourning event for local workers.
Held at J. Howard Pew Memorial Park in Waterways, it was difficult to ignore what mental health and long-term impacts last May’s wildfire might leave on Fort McMurray’s emergency workers and labour force.
The ramifications of fighting last May’s wildfire on emergency workers are still being studied, said James Reid, an electrician at Keyano College who also works with the Wood Buffalo & District Labour Council. The amount of post-traumatic stress and emotional issues reported by firefighters and residents has also risen sharply.
Yet even without the wildfire, the 12 months since the last ceremony has seen Alberta’s labour movement become increasingly sensitive to the mental and emotional health of workers, as thousands of workers connected to the oil and gas industry saw their jobs disappear.
“Let’s not confuse when we go to the hospital for any other issue, be it our leg or our minds,” said Robin Boostrom, an adviser with Christina Lake Enterprises. “It makes us stronger as leaders. Let’s not be afraid to say I need help.”
During the ceremony, speakers also spoke of the importance of following proper safety protocols and pointing out situations that may put others at risk. Others spoke of the importance of raising workplace safety concerns as soon as they become apparent.
Last year, 144 men and women in Alberta were killed in workplace accidents or from illnesses they received while working. That number includes two men killed at Nexen’s Long Lake facility in January 2016, following an explosion that destroyed much of the facility’s hydrocracker unit.