WHSC consults broadly to shape future goals
At the Workers Health and Safety Centre everyone’s opinion counts. Last fall the Workers Centre made time to capture the opinions of staff, board of directors and key constituents in a series of consultations and strategic planning sessions to help set a course of action and specific goals for the next year.
Initial input occurred in mid-October when information services, program development and training services staff attended a two-day planning session. Working groups developed new ideas for promoting, developing and administering Workers Centre programs. Staff chose as the best new ideas: an annual WHMIS review; new youth initiatives; reinvigorating instructor development; promoting the Workers Centre through local training and adjustment boards; evaluations using depersonalized WHSC data and case studies to promote the Workers Centre; and a Workers Centre web-accessed resource InfoCentre to facilitate information sharing among staff and visitors to the site.
These new ideas were then presented at November’s WHSC annual strategic planning and consultation session. Participants included the WHSC board of directors, members of the Centre’s program advisory committee, leaders from member organizations and staff representing each Workers Centre work group.
The discussion and feedback was facilitated by Marc Zwelling, president of Vector Research + Development Inc. Throughout the meeting everyone’s opinion counted — literally. To complement round table discussions, participants used keypads to numerically enter their choices in response to specific questions and also their priorities for WHSC goals.
As a result of this process, young worker initiatives ranked as the top priority. To further meet this need, the Workers Centre is committed to working with member organizations using existing scholarship resources to build a youth instructor base encouraging young workers to share their unique perspective. There was also consensus that the Workers Centre must be open to new ethno-cultural partnerships and revisit literacy issues and the need for plain language material.
A presentation by Workers Centre system administration staff also offered an Internet reality check. Statistics Canada reports that 50 per cent of Canadian households have used the Internet as a tool for formal education or training. After discussion, constituents felt the Internet could be used more effectively as a networking tool to connect activists and as a medium for getting information into their hands.
But good ideas aren’t born in a vacuum. Several thousand Ontario workers were randomly selected, of which some 400 completed a phone survey by Vector Research. This served as a backdrop in priority setting.
Dave Killham, WHSC executive director, commissioned the survey. “We needed a reality check from Ontario workers to tell us where health and safety is on their radar and what hazards most concern them.” The responses didn’t surprise him. “More than two-thirds of workers polled believe worker carelessness accounts for most occupational injuries and illnesses. This longstanding myth shifts the focus from unsafe working conditions to worker behaviour. If people believe workplace injuries and fatalities result from worker error that’s tantamount to saying, ‘There is nothing we can do to prevent this,’ and that’s absolutely false.”
Candace Carnahan (pictured above) doesn’t think for a second she’s responsible for the workplace incident that resulted in the amputation of her leg. Carnahan was a 21-year-old university student working her third summer at a New Brunswick paper mill when her leg got caught while walking over a conveyor belt system, something she and others had done a thousand times before without incident. The articulate Carnahan is a youth spokesperson with the New Brunswick Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC).
Killham attended last fall’s WHSCC conference where he was moved by Carnahan’s story and decided then participants at the Workers Centre planning session should hear her too. Says Carnahan, “In a situation such as this, it’s to everybody’s advantage to focus on the things you have the power to change instead of trying to change the things you can’t.”
Much work remains concludes Killham. “We’ve got to go back to the basics and re-educate workers to identify, assess and control hazards. Workers have internalized risk as an acceptable part of the job. They have to understand they have the power to change their working conditions and prevent needless suffering. And they need to know the Workers Centre will support them all the way.”