Rehya Yazbek’s approach to workplace health and safety is simple – if there is an issue let’s address it “at the source and right now.” She believes health and safety requires constant vigilance and waiting to fix a problem could harm workers in the meantime.
She speaks from experience. Yazbek, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1000A, has worked in Loblaws grocery stores for 19 years. Yazbek witnessed first hand what can happen when health and safety concerns are not dealt with promptly. “For years cashiers complained about muscle aches and pain especially in their wrist and elbow, but also legs and back,” says Yazbek. “Unfortunately, they continued to perform the same tasks day-in and day-out while their condition worsened.” Yazbek, a former cashier herself, adds she suffers from fallen arches related to prolonged standing. This injury could have been avoided by installing basic things like an anti-fatigue mat and a foot rest, she says.
Not surprising, it was an ergonomic issue that prompted Yazbek to get involved in health and safety. In 1995 a union/management committee was established to look into redesigning cashiers’ work stations. “Finally something was being done,” says Yazbek, “but I was shocked to realize not one cashier was on the committee – the very people who would know what the needs were.” Yazbek succeeded in getting a seat on the committee. She says she made several suggestions that were implemented, including foot rests.
Yazbek has also made health and safety improvements in the floral department where she now works. “Instead of allowing cuttings to fall directly onto the floor, which was the practice, I introduced cutting directly into a garbage bin, eliminating what I saw as a potential slipping hazard. Not a big deal, but big enough,” she says.
Yazbek is a member of her workplace joint health and safety committee and has co-chaired committees at other Loblaws locations. As well as being a Workers Health & Safety Centre-trained instructor for about one year, she has participated in other Workers Centre training programs including Certification Training, Level I and Level II Law and Committees.
Besides her health and safety activities, Yazbek has also served as a union steward for 16 years and has sat on the negotiating committee for the last two sets of bargaining with the employer.
Pearl Sawyer, executive vice president, UFCW Local 1000A, says Yazbek’s dedication to preventing workplace injury and illness is unmatched. “Not only is she quick to point out a problem, she usually presents a couple of solutions at the same time. Whenever you need something done, Rehya always steps up to the plate.”
Kevin Corporon, president, UFCW Local 1000A, agrees, “Rehya has made a significant contribution to the organization’s health and safety efforts. Her knowledge, experience and commitment make her an especially effective activist.”