More than 25 years ago during a short-lived job at Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, Pam Mancuso learned an invaluable lesson she holds on to today — workers have the right to be safe and healthy at work, regardless of the workplace.
So it came as a shock to her when she began her nursing career that the prevailing attitude suggested being hit or attacked was simply part of the job if you work in health care. “That just didn’t seem right to me and quite frankly I couldn’t accept it,” says Mancuso. She has spent the last 22 years debunking this ill-founded stereotype by helping ensure her colleagues and hospital patients alike enjoy as safe and healthy an environment as possible.
A member of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) Local 46, Mancuso is a stroke coordinator for Sault Area Hospital (SAH) which consists of four separate health care facilities. For 14 years she has been worker co-chair of the multi-site joint health and safety committee. She’s also health and safety and human rights lead for her union local and is a WHSC-qualified instructor.
Mancuso however is quick to credit her union for having the foresight to set up a pilot health and safety program for ONA Region 1 members in northern Ontario. Through quarterly teleconferences members share concerns, report on Ministry of Labour (MOL) activity and simply give moral support says Mancuso.
This is especially helpful as the Ministry of Labour has increased surveillance of health care facilities since the SARS epidemic in 2003. Mancuso reports they’ve had 18 MOL visits already this year. She and her management counterparts are working diligently though to improve workplace conditions and lose their high risk designation with the Ministry.
The last few years have been busy says Mancuso. Five years ago the MOL ordered the employer to establish a violence prevention program after an uncontrolled psychiatric patient threatened nursing staff. That program is up and running well she reports.
High rates of back injuries also have been reduced through a comprehensive zero lift policy, including investment in ceiling lifts, transfer sheets and in-service training. And Mancuso happily reports after a three-year process their facilities are out front of recent legislation and are now needle-less — safety engineered devices are now the standard.
Mancuso says they are able to solve problems because both sides are committed to the process. Current SAH president and chief executive officer Ron Gagnon sits on the joint committee and conducts workplace inspections alongside worker members. “Staff are more comfortable raising their concerns. I can honestly say we have developed a safety culture here,” says Mancuso. “It didn’t happen overnight. Now that we’ve created this environment I don’t think we can ever go back to the old days. The cost is too great in human and financial terms.”
From years of handling return to work and accommodation issues Mancuso knows better than most, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s why she fully supports a key SARS Commission recommendation to enshrine the precautionary principle in Ontario health and safety law. She mailed copies of the report to her management counterparts hoping they’ll support this too.
Linda Haslam-Stroud is president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association. “Pam Mancuso is strongly committed to protecting the health and safety of our members. With her knowledge and determination she has also helped secure significant workplace improvements,” says Haslam-Stroud. “Pam is an outstanding role model and an invaluable resource within ONA.”