You might say care-giving is in Karen Vaughan’s genes. A registered nurse at Maplewood Nursing Home in Brighton, Ontario since 1993, Vaughan followed in the footsteps of her grandmother and mother who also chose nursing careers.
Vaughan, a busy mother of three, recalls her grandmother’s stories of nursing before the existence of mechanical lifts and joint health and safety committees. Her grandmother who had both knees replaced is testament to the often back-breaking work performed by nurses in years gone by. But says Vaughan, neither her grandmother nor her mother for that matter, ever complained of their aches and pains.
Unfortunately, says Vaughan, many of her co-workers don’t complain either. They mistakenly believe injuries are just part of the job. As certified member and worker co-chair of the joint health and safety committee though, Vaughan is trying to change this way of thinking. She hopes to encourage her workmates to raise their voices to help prevent workplace injuries from occurring in the first place.
Presently in her second term as a vice president and shop steward for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 175, Vaughan sits on the local’s executive board committee. Vaughan was recommended for the Workers Health and Safety Centre’s Instructor Training Program in 2003. And although new to instructing, Vaughan has already delivered two sessions of Level I training and is scheduled to deliver her third session this fall.
Says Wayne Hanley, president of UFCW Local 175, “Karen takes full advantage of the opportunities made available to her from the union. She then uses her education to teach other members the benefits of a safe and healthy workplace. Karen is an inspiring activist and a great instructor.”
The joint health and safety committee under Vaughan’s leadership has also been successful. Says Vaughan, “Things are starting to change in the nursing home. We have been able to get things implemented that we haven’t been able to do before.”
For example, the joint committee successfully rid the workplace of automatic fragrance dispensers which randomly spewed perfumed deodorizers into the air ― and sometimes on people. For individuals with respiratory problems this was particularly hazardous.
Also, after a summer of record-breaking heat and humidity the joint committee fought for and finally secured from the employer a couple of air conditioned rooms and extra dehumidifiers to rid the workplace of excess heat and moisture in the air. Most recently in response to Vaughan’s concerns, the Ministry of Labour wrote orders to implement safety-engineered sharps in the nursing home. Safety-engineered sharps have been and continue to be a huge issue in most health care settings.
Reflecting on her achievements Vaughan observes, “Care-giving has changed alot since my mother and grandmother were nurses. One thing that hasn’t changed though is the need to keep fighting for a healthy and safe workplace. This is something I care deeply about.”