Derek Ferguson is a tool and die maker by trade. Operating a forklift isn’t part of his job but that didn’t stop him from learning those skills to help protect fellow workers. When it comes to health and safety Ferguson may be modest but he’s certainly practical.
When Ontario recently introduced mandatory forklift operator training standards Ferguson knew his workplace would need training. The timing was perfect he says. He attended a Workers Health & Safety Centre instructor update session this spring introducing the WHSC’s new forklift operator skills training program, which includes a hands-on component. Ferguson admits, some of his co-workers were initially skeptical about him instructing the course. “The update session gave me the information and awareness I needed to teach this skills-based program. More importantly though my co-workers now trust me to deliver the training.”
Ferguson is a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) Local 2330. For 23 years he’s worked at Dana Thermal, an automotive thermal products manufacturer in Cambridge, Ontario. For about 15 years he’s been actively involved in his local union executive, serves on the Ontario Provincial Council of Machinists and has also been worker co-chair of his joint health and safety committee. Outside of work he also served as health and safety chair for Waterloo Regional Labour Council, and this fall received their health and safety activist award.
For the last few years Ferguson has set his sights on finding in-house solutions, especially when it comes to health and safety training. Traditionally, Ferguson’s employer had hired outside consultants to provide training and education for its workforce. Ferguson saw a better solution. He would get trained as a WHSC-qualified instructor. Despite his years of experience, Ferguson knew he had to complete WHSC Level I training to qualify for an instructor training scholarship. Two years ago, on his own time and at his own expense, he took a community-based Level I program offered at the University of Guelph. “The class brought together workers from different unions and sectors. It was a great way to learn by listening to other workers’ experience,” he says.
This spring through his union, Ferguson was offered a WHSC instructor training scholarship. “It makes so much sense. The membership was supportive. My employer was happy to go for it because it cost them very little. Now, we have an in-house health and safety instructor instead of spending money on outside consultants who don’t know our workplace. It’s a win-win situation,” says Ferguson.
Because he handles most of the workers’ compensation claims for the local Ferguson understands the role of good quality training in a health and safety prevention program. By the end of the year he will have trained approximately 20 co-workers in the WHSC forklift operator skills program. Packages have also been ordered so he can deliver WHMIS training to the entire workforce of 150. And with a grin he says maybe down the road the 40 or so workers using hoists and gantries on a regular basis will benefit from the WHSC cranes and hoists training program.
Dave Ritchie, Canadian general vice-president of IAMAW, says Ferguson’s accomplishments are far from modest. “Derek Ferguson makes things happen. If there’s a way to solve a problem Derek will find it and press on until the issue is resolved. He always looks out for the health and safety of others. We are proud of his accomplishments. He’s a tremendous asset to our union.”