When it comes to health and safety training, Cathy Cichonski stands at the head of her class—literally. A Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC)-qualified instructor since 2003, Cichonski loves to teach.
In fact, she has parlayed this love for teaching into a negotiated full-time position at LANXESS Inc. where she works as a “Training Safety and Environment Specialist.” She credits her experience as a WHSC-trained instructor for helping her in this position.
LANXESS Inc. (formerly Bayer) is located in Sarnia, Ontario where they manufacture synthetic rubber used primarily in the tire industry to make tires and inner tubes. During her 29 years with the company, Cichonski has worked as a custodian, process assistant, labourer, and operator assistant. Prior to her present position, she worked for four years as the full-time deputy chief steward for her bargaining unit.
A member of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) Local 914, Cichonski represents her local on the Sarnia & District Labour Council and she was also an active member of CEP’s Women’s Committee.
Keenly interested in health and safety, Cichonski has taken many WHSC training programs including Level I
, Level II Committees
, and Level II Law
among others. She is also a certified member in her workplace. In 2003 she accepted a scholarship through her local to take the Workers Health & Safety Centre’s Instructor Training Program
and she hasn’t looked back since.
“Sister Cichonski has become a role model for health and safety activists with CEP and indeed across this province. Her dedication is outstanding and her heart moves her to look out for her fellow workers. These were the qualities we looked for when CEP awarded her a scholarship to the WHSC Instructor Training Program
,” says Keith McMillan, National Representative, Health & Safety, CEP Ontario Region.
Once she became a WHSC-qualified instructor, Cichonski was asked to deliver the Level I
program in her workplace. Never afraid of a challenge, Cichonski ably delivered the program to the company’s many departmental heads, joint health and safety committee (JHSC) members and first line supervisors in five separate sessions. Recognizing the value of the program, the employer made Level I
mandatory for all of their first line supervisors, keeping Cichonski and her colleagues very busy.
Cichonski has also delivered WHSC programs out in the community. She delivered the Level I
program at the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) Sarnia office. There were participants from various unions, as well as management and representatives from the local Public Health Unit. Also in attendance was Barb Millitt, a health and safety activist and chair of the Victims of Chemical Valley organization.
Cichonski was especially pleased to have Millitt in her classroom as it was the Victims of Chemical Valley who inspired many locally to become involved in health and safety in the first place. “Living in Sarnia, I have lost a lot of people close to me including my stepfather to asbestosis. Many members and retirees of our local are suffering from it right now,” says Cichonski.
As an instructor, Cichonski knows the importance of raising awareness of occupational disease and linking it back to the workplace. “I always start off my Level 1
classes by asking participants to raise their hands if they have lost a loved one or know of someone who has died from asbestosis or some other occupational disease. Everyone raises their hands. It is really heartbreaking. This is why I became involved. I only wish more people would. We need all the help and support we can get.”