After working 20 years in a sawmill in Opasatika, Ontario, Jacques Jean a former lumber grader has seen it all ―
injuries, illness and death. Concerned about the safety of co-workers, Jean decided to take action ― and a health and safety activist was born.
Jean has come up through the ranks to become an invaluable resource for his union. For several years, he served as worker co-chair of the joint health and safety committee and shop steward for International Woodworkers of America (now United Steelworkers Union (USW) Local 1-2995).
Eventually Jean was hired full-time as education director and was recently elected USW Local 1-2995 director of health, safety and compensation, a position he has held for the past two years. During this time Jean has accomplished much. Not only is he health and safety director, he is also a business agent and financial secretary for the Local.
Jean also sits on the Steelworkers District 6 Health, Safety and WCB Committee. Says Nancy Hutchison, health and safety coordinator for USW District 6, “Jacques is a welcome addition to the committee. He brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience about the pulp and paper industry. With so many fatalities plaguing this sector, we are fortunate to have him onboard. He has given us a whole new perspective.”
Serving as a troubleshooter, Jean is responsible for the safety of 30 bargaining units totaling some 2,300 members. He coordinates all health and safety training for the local. This past spring Jean also liaised with USW Local 6500 in Sudbury to work on the Steelworkers Young Worker Awareness campaign around the Day of Mourning, held for the first time in Kapuskasing.
Perhaps Jean’s greatest accomplishment to date though, was the creation of Local 1-2995 Safety Council. Jean formed the Safety Council which brings together all of the joint committee co-chairs twice a year to exchange ideas and discuss emerging health and safety issues, including training concerns.
With Jean facilitating the meetings the Council elects their own chairperson and makes recommendations for training they feel is needed. As executive board liaison, Jean takes the recommendations back to the board for approval. Once the recommendations are approved the union arranges the training. Whenever possible Jean insists they use the services of the Workers Health and Safety Centre.
Jean was also successful in negotiating changes to a workplace health and safety program introduced at one of the plywood companies represented by the Steelworkers. The program’s primary and original focus was on worker behaviour. Now the program focuses on the root causes of the incidents and injuries. Says Jean, “The program has been a huge success. The number of injuries has decreased significantly. And the employer is very pleased with the results. It’s been a win/win situation all around.”