Although Kathy Yamich would have you believe she lacks workplace health and safety experience and “really hasn’t done much,” her record says otherwise.
For 19 years Yamich, a member of UNITE HERE Local 2347, worked for Niagara Parks Commission as a server at the Table Rock Restaurant.
“Thinking back it is unbelievable that I worked there all those years without realizing the importance of health and safety in the workplace,” says Yamich.
Yamich recounts the single incident that caused her to stand up and take notice. “It happened three years ago, around the same time the union was looking for workers to run for positions on the joint health and safety committee.” She recalls this particular day she and her co-worker worked on the patio area of the restaurant for nine hours without a break. She remembers how hot it was and that she had to argue for a bottle of water. “At the end of the shift, I suggested to my co-worker we should run for the committee. There were no other candidates so we got on,” says Yamich.
“I was in for a rude awakening. My understanding was you go to a meeting once a month—nothing to it. It was not until my union sent us for health and safety training that I realized how dysfunctional our committee was,” adds Yamich.
Yamich participated in three weeks of training through the Workers Health & Safety Centre, Level I
, Level II Law
and Level II Committees
labour education training programs. “I returned to the workplace armed with new tools, determined to do a good job on the committee and make health and safety improvements,” says Yamich.
Not surprising, Yamich set out to establish a heat stress policy. However this was accomplished only after the Ministry of Labour (MOL) intervened. She says, she put the issue on the agenda for several meetings. Her employer refused to address it. So, she called the MOL.
This became a pattern for solving health and safety issues in her workplace. After “getting nowhere with the boss” she also called the MOL to resolve a situation giving rise to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). As servers they were required to carry up to 40 pound trays on their shoulders at any given time. In this case, the MOL inspector issued orders for load reduction and MSD prevention training.
Yamich says MSDs are widespread within her union as a whole and within the food sector specifically. However, she says, “People are reluctant to complain—especially part time and seasonal workers who don’t complain fearing they may lose their jobs.”
She hopes with education this may change. “Our members need health and safety education, but I would say so do our employers. In many cases it is lack of health and safety knowledge that causes problems.”
To help remedy this situation, Yamich became a WHSC-qualified instructor. Now, she delivers training to her co-workers and other union members in the community.
Yamich has recently become the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and health and safety representative for UNITE HERE Ontario Council. Her predecessor, Peter Curtis, says he has worked with Yamich from the start and admires her hard work and dedication to worker education. “She learns fast. Once she has the knowledge she runs with it,” adds Curtis.
Running or not, it would appear Yamich is sure to keep bringing worker health and safety to the table.