Bob McCloskey’s road to health and safety activism began, like so many others, with a personal experience. His father-in-law died in 1988 as a result of exposure to workplace chemicals that affected his lungs and other organs. “He was a new immigrant who worked in a factory over open chemical vats. He had no protection and certainly no one informed him of his rights,” says McCloskey.
So when the position of fulltime co-chair for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), Dufferin-Peel Secondary Unit came available, McCloskey seized the opportunity.
He held the fulltime co-chair position for eight years during which time he focused on workplace inspections. And as a science teacher one might say McCloskey’s approach to health and safety inspections was also scientific. “My biggest push was to quantify—as much as possible—the health and safety inspection process,” McCloskey says. “I started measuring everything.”
Faced with poor indoor air in the schools McCloskey purchased equipment and measured for carbon dioxide. When he presented his findings to the school board, because he had facts and figures to support the presence of contaminants, the board had no choice but to conduct their own investigation. “The board found cases where portions of the ventilation system were not attached, fans were installed backwards and dampers were not working. In one 10-year-old building the duct work had been sealed for the entire 10 years,” says McCloskey.
He says for the most part Dufferin-Peel board representatives address health and safety issues once the case is made. For example when his measurements of noise levels in the music room proved to be excessive the board acted on recommendations from the joint health and safety committee and implemented a hearing conservation program. The program included engineering controls such as sound barriers.
McCloskey urges workplace health and safety representatives to not only rely on the Occupational Health and Safety Act
when making recommendations for improvements. “The Act
says employers must take reasonable precaution to protect workers. I use standards and codes to make the case for what’s considered ‘reasonable’. And even if the information is not enacted into law, but is an industry standard I will cite this as reasonable.”
“As a health and safety co-chair, I travelled with two main documents, a copy of the Act
and the Ontario Building Code
.” Other supporting documents McCloskey has used to make a case for health and safety improvements include the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standards and guidelines.
McCloskey is now chair of OECTA’s provincial health and safety committee. His replacement on the Dufferin-Peel Secondary Unit committee is Brian Heimbecker. Heimbecker says in addition to all McCloskey did for existing health and safety concerns, he has also lobbied the school board to consider health and safety measures at the design stages of new and renovated schools.
Heimbecker adds, “I cannot think of a better person to be recognized for their volunteer health and safety activism. Bob made such an impression on me as a health and safety advocate that in becoming his replacement I have tried to follow in his footsteps by putting on different shoes instead of trying to fill his big shoes.”