Algoma Steel has been in business for 103 years. Steve Johnson has been working there for 27 of them. This experience coupled with extensive Workers Health & Safety Centre training well equips Johnson for his considerable responsibilities as the full-time health and safety chair representing the concerns of over 3,000 co-workers and fellow members of United Steelworkers (USW), Local 2251.
Johnson works with 22 health and safety committees and 10 full-time health and safety representatives at Algoma. Together, they have prioritized quality health and safety. All workers at Algoma are trained in the Workers Health & Safety Centre’s (WHSC) Level I
program. In the past four years 40 in-house, WHSC-qualified instructors have trained the entire workforce in the Centre’s 30-hour flagship program. Johnson himself completed Level I in 1996. He has also successfully completed almost 20 hazard-specific modules and Instructor Training.
“We like to compare the level of health and safety knowledge workers have before and after training,” says Johnson. “We find training gives workers the knowledge they need to understand the hazards that affect them at work and the many ways to prevent them. Workers here are exposed to hazards ranging from noise to molten materials, machinery, and electrical hazards. Many of our workers also suffer from occupational diseases such as hearing loss and occupational cancers.”
To combat future occupational disease, and to facilitate occupational disease claims, Johnson is spearheading a new intake clinic at Algoma. “We are still in the planning stage,” explains Johnson. “We are developing strategies about how to best meet the needs of our workers — past, present and future.”
Meantime, Johnson and other health and safety representatives at Algoma continue to assist workers with compensation claims. In the last year alone they have won 42 claims for hearing loss.
To help finance their initiatives and more, Johnson, his union and worker members of the joint health and safety committee have also negotiated a health and safety education fund. The employer provides one cent per hour for every hour worked (about $62,000 per year) to be used by union health and safety committee members as they see fit.
Johnson also sits on the Steelworkers District 6 health and safety committee. This committee, which is comprised of members from workplaces all over Ontario and the Maritime provinces, meets quarterly to compare health and safety issues and strategies.
“It has been a pleasure working with Steve, watching him grow in the area of health and safety. At the same time, I am constantly learning from his initiatives and ideas though. Steve’s talent and expertise is depended on by the rest of the committee,” says Nancy Hutchison, USW District 6, health and safety co-ordinator.
Hutchison adds, “Steve’s passion for worker training is inspiring. Few workplaces benefit from the kind of comprehensive training in place at Algoma. They are a model for us all.”