Always on call
“It never hurts to get involved,”
says health and safety activist Doug Dutton. It’s a simple motto but one that Dutton lives and works by in his efforts to help create a safer, healthier workplace and community.
Dutton is a business installation and repair technician for a telecommunications company and member of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP). He is currently recording secretary of CEP Local 52, worker co-chair of his joint health and safety committee and alternate worker co-chair on the corporate health and safety committee.
Dutton was a joint committee activist before committees were legally mandated. Amendments to Canada’s Labour Code in 1984 made committees mandatory, but CEP had negotiated the provision as early as 1982. Dutton recalls, “I was pretty green then, but I was encouraged to get involved by others in the union. They felt I could make a difference.” And for 20 years he has.
Both the union and the company recognize Dutton’s efforts. For four years Dutton worked fulltime for the employer developing training materials for joint committees specific to their work in telecommunications. In particular Dutton wrote confined space entry procedures for many of their workplaces, including a package for local fire departments involved in company confined space rescue operations.
As well as being a Workers Health and Safety Centre-qualified instructor, Dutton has also participated on several of the Centre’s program advisory groups.
In recent years Dutton has become a valued workers’ compensation advocate within his union. Since 1998 he’s been a workers’ compensation instructor through the Ontario Federation of Labour saying simply, “There was a need for this type of knowledge among our members.”
In this role Dutton helped prepare compensation claims for a group of Hamilton area telecommunications workers who developed pre-menopausal breast cancer they suspect is linked to occupational exposures to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Dutton says the case will set a precedent one way or another, but in the interim he says there is more EMF testing being conducted in their workplaces and generally greater awareness of the potential health effects.
“Cancer has been an issue for a number of years among our membership but until recently few considered the workplace link.” In 1998 CEP negotiated a company-wide cancer study instead of tackling the issue cluster by cluster. The parties are currently developing the study protocol.
Joel Carr, an administrative vice president with CEP says of Dutton, “Doug is one of the most dedicated and skilled activists I have ever met. He is enormously resourceful. His efforts have gone a long way towards securing healthier, safer workplaces for our members.”
Outside of the workplace Dutton is equally as involved. He is labour co-chair of the York-South Simcoe Training and Adjustment Board and sits on Seneca College’s Board of Governors including one year as Chair. Even here Dutton put his health and safety and compensation experience to good use. After being approached for help by support staff at the college, Dutton conducted several workers’ compensation awareness sessions. He also offered assistance to workers at the college in identifying asbestos at one of their historical properties.
Closer to home, Dutton, the father of two teenaged boys, spoke earlier this year to one of his son’s classes about workplace health and safety issues. “Education is a lifelong process,” he says. It’s clear Dutton is certainly in it for life.