Day of Mourning: A call to action for safer workplaces in Canada

Rob Ellis

Special to Ontario Construction News

On the Day of Mourning, we pause to reflect on the profound impact of workplace accidents, not just on the individuals involved but on families, communities, and our country as a whole. It is a day steeped in solemn remembrance for those like my son, David Ellis, whose lives were tragically cut short by preventable workplace incidents.

David was only 18 when he lost his life due to unsafe work. It was the second day on the job. The shock and agony of losing a child in such circumstances are indescribable and have forever altered the fabric of our family. David’s tragic death is a harsh reminder of our need to stand up for vulnerable workers in Canada.

But David’s story is far from isolated. Every day, families across Canada face the devastating news that their loved one has been injured or killed in the workplace. These are not just statistics; they are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters—each an irreplaceable loss to their families and our society.

The ripple effects of these tragedies extend far beyond the immediate grief – these deaths have immeasurable effects on our society. Our attitude towards workplace fatalities and injuries says something about who we are as people and as a country. Despite significant advancements over the last century, workplace safety still requires a relentless commitment to improvement. Historical shifts in how we view worker protection have undoubtedly saved countless lives, yet the journey continues.

On this Day of Mourning, let us embrace courage—not just the personal bravery to refuse unsafe work, but the collective courage to stand up for others. It’s one thing to know your rights in the workplace; it’s another entirely to assert them, especially when faced with threats and opposition. We must support each other, speak up against unsafe practices, and ensure no one feels alone. We’re stronger when we work together.

Today, I urge every employer, manager, and business owner to use the Day of Mourning as a catalyst for reflection. Ask yourself this question: “What matters more – employee production or employee safety?” It’s easy to profess a commitment to safety, but true dedication to safety is demonstrated through daily practices and a proactive approach to preventing accidents. We need to be vigilant to ensure that complacency does not erode the gains we have made.

The Day of Mourning is not only about remembering those we have lost but also about propelling forward. This day is a call to action for everyone—from government officials and CEOs, to young workers just entering the workforce. We must work together to foster safer work environments where every Canadian can work without fear for their safety.

As we honor the memory of my son David and countless others, let us pledge to be relentless in our pursuit of safety, unwavering in our support for one another, and courageous in our actions. Together, we can ensure that the tragedies of the past do not dictate the future.

Rob Ellis is the Founder and President of He became an outspoken advocate for health, safety and wellness in the workplace after the death of his son David in 1999.


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