At Titan Park in Sparwood, the miners memorial wall bears a new name and date – Patrick Dwyer, April 9, 2018.
The 70-year-old contractor died when his floating excavator flipped into a tailings pond at Teck Coal’s Fording River Operations.
LOOK BACK: Fording River victim identified
Dwyer was one of two men killed on the job in the Elk Valley last year and five in the East Kootenay.
His dedication was unveiled at the National Day of Mourning memorial ceremony in Sparwood on Sunday.
“As you can see from the memorial wall, this valley is not foreign to tragedy. With great sorrow we added one more name to the list this year,” said Sparwood Councillor Sonny Saad.
“Although workplace accidents can happen anywhere at anytime, most of our worker accidents happen within the mining industry in this area.
“The mining industry has taken great strides to improve the safety over the years. However, tragedies do strike us without warning. It is a reminder that we do work in a dangerous environment.”
Dozens of people, led by bagpipe player Jim Walgren and the Elkview Operations mine rescue team, marched from Centennial Square to Titan Park, where many more gathered for the ceremony.
They also paid tribute to Stefan Falzon, who was fatally injured in a vehicle collision at Elkview Operations on November 18.
Falzon’s name has not yet been added to the memorial wall at the request of his family.
“Today is a day for us to remember and honour our fallen brothers and sisters. It is a day for us to reflect on the changes that have been made to ensure those incidents never happen again,” said United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9346 Vice President Nick Howard.
“Finally, today is a day where we make the commitment to each other that we will look out for one another and ensure we all go home to our families at the end of the day.”
In B.C., there were 131 work-related deaths last year, which is an average of 2.5 workers dying each week.
WorkSafeBC Occupational Safety Officer Jack Marra said the National Day of Mourning serves as a reminder that one workplace death is too many.
“It gives us added meaning and urgency to the need for safer, healthier workplaces,” he said. “Health and safety must be a priority every day of the year.”
Occupational disease remains the leading cause of work-related deaths in B.C., according to Marra, and this is largely due to asbestos exposure from decades ago.
He said WorkSafeBC remains committed to using education, consultation and enforcement strategies to improve workplace health and safety across the province.
Ammonia safety has been a priority for WorkSafeBC since the fatal gas leak at Fernie Memorial Arena in 2017.
Federal MP Wayne Stetski paid tribute to local victims, as well as the three CP Rail employees, Dylan Paradis, Andrew Dockrell and Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer, who were killed when a train derailed east of Field, B.C., in February.
“Today, we remember them and we recommit to making workplace safety a top priority,” said Stetski. “We all have a responsibility to ensure that everyone who goes to work comes home at the end of the day.”
Stetski said governments must continue to improve workplace health and safety standards, and pass laws that ensure employers are held accountable for work-related injuries and deaths.
These must keep pace with evidence and research on workplace hazards, he added.
“Politicians also have an important role to play in ensuring workers are safe. As a member of the NDP, I stand strong with our unions, our workers, their families and all communities across Canada,” he said.
On Friday, high school students also honoured fallen workers and learned the importance of workplace safety, with 175 schools across B.C. taking part in the Day of Mourning BC Schools Project this year.
“We can’t change the past, we can affect the future. What we do now protects the workers of today and our children, who are workers of tomorrow,” said Marra.
Mine worker’s death still painful for colleagues
Justin Surine is no stranger to workplace deaths.
At the tender age of 14, he witnessed a tractor accident on his father’s farm, which claimed the life of a young college student.
As a member of the Elkview Operations mine rescue team, Surine was also on scene when Teck employee Stefan Falzon was fatally injured in a vehicle collision at the Sparwood mine on November 18.
“The day we lost Stef still feels really fresh and that hurts still, really deep,” he admitted to the crowd gathered at Titan Park for the National Day of Mourning memorial ceremony, Sunday.
“Being on scene that day was super, super heavy for me because I knew that across town from my house, there was a house just like mine. There would be a knock on the door and a wife and two little kids, just like mine, were going to be dealt the news that the person that is most important in their whole world had been taken away from them.”
Falzon was among two workers killed on the job in the Elk Valley last year and five in the East Kootenay.
For Surine, Falzon’s death was a poignant reminder of the fragility of life.
“I went home that night and I held my wife with a sense of gratitude that I had never experienced before and I didn’t let my kids out of my arms for probably three days after that,” he said.
United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9346 Health and Safety Chair, Alex Hanson, knew Falzon as a union representative, mine rescue team member and competent leader.
He offered his condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Falzon, as well as Pat Dwyer, who died in a workplace incident at Fording River Operations in April last year.
“They were one of us and our hearts grieve at their departure,” said Hanson.
He also thanked the safety professionals among the crowd for their efforts to keep workers healthy and safe.
“It is pretty clear that we don’t always get it right, unfortunately. And when we don’t get it right, sometimes those consequences are severe,” he said.
“I’m asking for your continued commitment in the memory of both Stef and Pat.”
Several fundraisers for the Falzon family were set up in the wake of Stefan’s death, with over $17,000 raised so far.
The union is still accepting donations on behalf of the family. Donate via e-transfer using the email firstname.lastname@example.org.