When Ianthe “Violet” Stringer received the Individual Health and Safety Award at Ontario Public Service Employees Union’s (OPSEU) 2005 convention she was understandably thrilled. The award was for her immeasurable contribution to health and safety.
But Stringer was not half as thrilled as her family, friends and co-workers, who were present at the awards ceremony. They showered her with congratulatory noisemakers and crowned her Queen of Health and Safety ― complete with shiny tiara. All fun aside, Stringer would tell you it was one of her proudest moments.
Accepting the award, Stringer quoted Workers Health and Safety Centre executive director, Dave Killham, “As health and safety activists we know no benevolent power will hand us the workplace improvements we seek. None before have been gained without struggle or without demands. We must draw power from our past experiences in order to build a strong future.”
Stringer has lived by this philosophy. A dedicated residential counselor for some 30 years she works with developmentally challenged adults for an agency called Pathways to Independence. Her job entails helping clients with daily tasks such as bathing and shaving.
Many of Stringer’s clients are paralyzed and require assistance to move in and out of bed. As a health and safety coordinator Stringer has successfully implemented (with the help of occupational therapists) an in-house “lifting” program thus reducing the occurrence of lifting-related injuries in the workplace. She has also recommended the use of cell phones for staff members working alone in group homes ― another recommendation implemented by her employer.
An active trade unionist, Stringer wears many hats. She is vice president of OPSEU Local 448. She was instrumental in helping to redesign Developmental Services Sector’s Level 1
health and safety program, specifically written for developmental services workers. Stringer also sits on OPSEU’s Developmental Services Sector Executive Committee as the health and safety representative. And she is on the union’s Local health and safety committee as well as her own workplace joint health and safety committee where she is the certified member.
Says Lisa McCaskell, OPSEU’s senior health and safety officer, “Ianthe has many years of experience and a solid understanding of health and safety. Her knowledge of the developmental services sector and her ability to put theory and practice together in a meaningful way has made her invaluable to her co-workers and to the union.”
Recently, Stringer convinced her employer they needed a full-time health and safety coordinator and trainer. She was offered the job. In her new position Stringer has been entrusted with all in-house health and safety training ― a task for which she is uniquely qualified as a Workers Centre-trained instructor. She is also rewriting the company’s health and safety policies and procedures to ensure they comply with or exceed the law and that they are relevant to all aspects of the company’s operations.
Long live Queen Violet.