Fact:
The Memorial Monument at the United Steel-Workers of America Building commemorates the lives lost at the Sydney Steel Plant.

 

Fact:
The monument displays the names of over three hundred employees who lost their lives during the Sydney Steel Plant’s century of operation.

 

Fact:
After the Steel Plant became a crown corporation in 1968 safety improved greatly and loss of life dropped to the lowest numbers in history.

 
 
 
 

 

MAKING STEEL – A VERY CHALLENGING OCCUPATION.
By Sydney S. Slaven

Working at a steel mill is among the most challenging occupations in the world. At a steel mill numerous occupational hazards come together such as molten metal, poisonous gas, moving equipment, overhead cranes, conveyor systems, high voltage and noise pollution.
The workers at the Sydney Steel Plant did not escape occupational hazards. The Memorial Monument at the United Steel-Workers of America Building in Sydney, N.S. is a testament to work place injury. The monument displays the names of over three hundred employees who lost their lives during the Sydney Steel Plant’s century of operation. One hundred and sixty-seven died in the years 1900 to 1920 alone. At that time, safety was a low priority.

In reality the number of deaths was much higher then what is recorded on the monument. Under the Disco regime a death had to occur on the plant property before is officially recognized. So, if an employee died off plant property from an injury incurred on site, it was not officially recognized as a steel plant fatality.

Before 1949 Newfoundland was a colony of the British Empire, and not part of Canada. Many Newfoundlanders came to Sydney to work at the Sydney Steel Plant during its construction, and later its operation. Some of the workers had official status, but the majority were illegal immigrants. These workers were encouraged by agents of Disco, to jump aboard the ore boats traveling from Belle Island, NFLD, to Sydney to meet the demand for labour. The workers were paid the lowest wages and put on the most dangerous jobs. The impact of the death of Newfoundland workers was minimal. No records of these deaths were made because officially these wrokers did not exist!

Another group of people that did not make it to the official accidental death list were the Black workers. Many experienced black steelworkers were recruited from the steel mills of Alabama and were to provide the steel making skills until the local workforce was trained and ready to take over. In 1905 four blacks were killed when a high voltage cable fell across the metal building they were in. Although the Halifax Evening Herald made note of it, their names are not on the official company casualty list. In 1901 the Halifax Evening Herald reported sixteen fatalities at the Sydney Plant. The Memorial Monument only lists six deaths, so it is likely the others causalities were Newfoundlanders and Black workers.

After 1901 the population of Sydney escalated from a couple of thousand to twenty thousand by 1920. It was realized that hospital facilities would have to be expanded to meet this increasing population, especially the number of injured steelworkers. The Brookland Hospital was sponsored by Disco and included a general men’s ward, a woman’s ward, and an eighteen-bed ward for steelworkers. The steel worker’s ward was almost always full. The Brookland Hospital operated from 1904 to 1919 when it was replaced by the first Sydney City Hospital.

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Last updated February 1, 2006