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Sombre ceremony marks 40th Workers' Memorial Day in Sudbury

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The 40th Workers' Memorial Day was held in Sudbury at Unifor Local 598 on Thursday.

The event featured the unveiling of Workers' Memorial Gardens, which included four benches bearing the names of the four workers who lost their lives 40 years ago and a new cenotaph.

"The fact that we're here today to commemorate and remember and the fact that we need to always do better," said Sudbury Mayor Paul Lefebvre.

"I think that's the message today is how we keep pushing the envelope of safety."

The day recognizes the four men who were killed at 10:12 a.m. on June 20th, 1984, after a seismic event caused a collapse in the former Falconbridge Mine.

Three workers were killed instantly and one was missing. Rescue teams worked frantically to locate the fourth person, who succumbed to his injuries after a second event caused further delays.

At the time, Ray Pilon was a driller in the mine who worked the late shift in the same area where his four co-workers lost their lives. He was a part of the initial search efforts.

"It was mass chaos on surface," Pilon said.

"The things that go through you, it's unbelievable. Until you face it, you have no idea how you react and the adrenaline and everything is just rushing almost right through you."

NDP Nickel Belt MPP and Health Critic France Gélinas was working at the hospital when the accident occurred. It's a day she'll never forget.

The 40th Workers' Memorial Day featured the unveiling of Workers' Memorial Gardens, which included four benches bearing the names of the four workers who lost their lives 40 years ago and a new cenotaph. (Amanda Hicks/CTV News)

"As the news started coming out, it was just so, so stressful and we knew that the mine rescuers were there. They were doing as good a job as they could," Gélinas said.

"And then the second earthquake came and it's like, how could that be? How could that be? It was just an awful, awful day that was shared by everybody in Sudbury."

Pilon recalled how many people stepped up to try and help.

"The rescue was a joint effort between the guys. The union was there. The company was there. Nothing was spared," he said.

Pilon said the anniversary is difficult every year.

"It hurts because it reminds me of what happened. But at the same time, it's a lot like Remembrance Day," he said.

"Lest we forget, let's not forget the four guys and go from there. And probably one of the best things that ever happened with joint health and safety."

Eric Boulay, president of the Mine Mill and Smelter Workers Union, Unifor Local 598, said, while there's been great advancements in safety since the accident, there's still work to be done.

"Some injuries or fatalities are going down, but they're still not at zero. And that is our ultimate goal, right?" Boulay said.

"That nobody gets injured or loses their life at work going forward. So there's always small improvements that can be made."

Boulay said he'd like to see more education for young workers.

"Getting to students in high school before they start their first job and explaining what health and safety is and what they should be looking out for and what their rights are in the workplace," he said.

"A lot of kids get thrown into a job and have no idea what they're doing, really, and the employers are not always forthcoming with that information."

The 40th Workers' Memorial Day featured the unveiling of Workers' Memorial Gardens, which included four benches bearing the names of the four workers who lost their lives 40 years ago and a new cenotaph. (Amanda Hicks/CTV News)

Gélinas said workplace accidents are preventable.

"All of these deaths are preventable,” she said.

“They are preventable if we put our minds and heart to it so that every step that we take, we make sure is a safety step.”

Janice Martell, founder of McIntyre Powder Project, saw her father suffer from Parkinson's disease and later chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as a result of McIntyre Powder exposure while working in the mines.

"Dad was very vulnerable in allowing his story to be told, and he gave me his blessing to do so. And in doing so, it helps all the other workers who were affected by MacIntyre Powder," Martell said.

"In doing so here, it helps bring back to the forefront how important health and safety is and how it's not just lip service to it, that these there are real people affected by this."

The McIntyre Powder Project offers an online registry for miners affected by the use of McIntyre Powder to document their health effects and to create legislative change.

Another goal is to inform workers of compensation benefits. Martell said workers should be protected from immediate and future health risks, and both should be taken seriously.

"A workplace accident or a rock fall like this, a seismic activity versus somebody who is exposed to stuff at work and dies 10 or 20 or 30 years later from it or suffers from that. It's the same thing," she said.

"Their workplace is hurting them. Their workplace is killing them." 

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