Taking health and safety to heart
For Hector McLellan it’s a characteristic you need as a health and safety activist. “You take on a project that you believe in and you persist using legislation, your collective agreement, whatever you can,” says McLellan. “You keep working to ensure that health and safety in your workplace is the best you can achieve.”
Anyone who knows McLellan knows he has lived by these words and worked for more than 25 years to improve conditions in both his workplace and his community.
Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, McLellan immigrated to London, Ontario in 1974. A year later he began work at the General Motors Diesel plant, where they manufacture train locomotives and armoured cars. Through his union, Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), Local 27, his first involvement was as a member of the education committee. He would later chair the political action committee.
A Workers Health and Safety Centre-qualified instructor, McLellan was first elected as health and safety representative in 1987 and re-elected every year since by acclamation. He has chaired Local 27’s health, safety and environment committee, is a former chairperson of the London Occupational Safety and Health Information Service and is currently in his last year as chair of CAW Council’s health and safety committee.
In his workplace, McLellan helped secure exhaust systems for welders and fall arrest protection for those performing work atop locomotives. More recently, he helped establish a carcinogen elimination project which systemically identifies confirmed or suspected carcinogens and pursues their elimination or substitution. McLellan suggests a similar system could be used to identify and eliminate musculoskeletal risk factors.
For his efforts McLellan has been recognized many times over. In 1998 he received a health and safety activist award from the Workers Centre and the London and District Labour Council. In 2000 he received the Tim Hickman award, named after the young worker killed by a workplace explosion in a London arena. Later the same year he received the CAW Bud Jimmerfield award, named after the Windsor area health and safety activist who died of esophageal cancer in 1998.
Summing up the motivation behind his volunteer activity, McLellan says, “Health and safety is in my heart and I think it’s in the heart of any committed activist. We have a genuine feeling for workers and their well-being.”
Rick Witherspoon, CAW national training coordinator for Ford of Canada has worked with McLellan for years. Of McLellan’s contributions he says, “Hector has gone above and beyond the call of duty, he has worked not only for his own members, but for the greater London community as well.” Witherspoon says McLellan was instrumental in establishing a London satellite office of the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers and in erecting the city’s Day of Mourning monument.
Even though McLellan has recently retired from General Motors Witherspoon adds, “Hector may be retired from the workplace, but he’ll never retire from the fight to improve the health and safety of working men and women.”
At this years’ Labour Day event, McLellan was awarded the Tolpuddle Martyrs Award given to a local retired activist for their outstanding contributions to the London community.