Susan Bellefeuille glanced around the room at a recent Workers Health & Safety Centre instructor update session and not surprising, she recognized almost everyone. Most of them she has taught in the 16 years she’s been a health and safety instructor. It’s gratifying says Bellefeuille, “I’m glad so many others have remained active and are putting their training to use.”
They had a good role model in Bellefeuille, a member of Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 1859 in Tillsonburg. Shortly after her workplace unionized in 1990 Bellefeuille was asked to join the newly formed joint health and safety committee. She is a certified member, currently worker co-chair and has served in various capacities within the local union, most recently as first vice-president.
Bellefeuille’s WHSC teaching record is impressive. She’s taught everything from certification to confined spaces, delivering to workers and managers in small auto parts plants to professors at the University of Western Ontario. That doesn’t capture the hours she’s facilitated courses for CAW as a discussion leader where she also helped develop paid education leave health and safety materials.
Bellefeuille became a WHSC-qualified instructor in 1991 just months after completing the WHSC’s Level I program. She was among the first to facilitate the original Core Certification program; her designated instructor number was four. “I am drawn to training and really have a passion for it, especially when workers are eager to learn,” says Bellefeuille. “If someone is prepared to give up a Saturday then I’m more than happy to share my time.”
With 17 years joint committee experience she’s helped introduce real workplace improvements too like a well functioning isocyanate control program. The designated substance is used to produce foam car seats. These gains have come she says because workers voiced their concerns. “Health and safety was always an issue on the shop floor. The employer knew we were willing to exercise our rights. As a result we’ve been able to make inroads.”
Bellefeuille also handles workers’ compensation claims for her local. Preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) is their greatest challenge. They have negotiated contract language to include a part-time ergonomic consultant and are using data from physical demands analyses to recommend safer work designs. Now when work design concerns arise an ergonomic assessment is conducted. However, Bellefeuille says she won’t rest until they negotiate time studies as well to review the rate and pace of work and how it might contribute to MSD.
When asked what advice she’d give to less experienced health and safety representatives Bellefeuille offers this. “We don’t often sit back and look at what we’ve accomplished. We all want to make huge improvements but it’s a gradual process. It can be overwhelming at first but when you stop to reflect you can see that you have indeed made small but important changes along the way.” Simcoe and District Labour Council in 1997 recognized Bellefeuille’s contributions and perseverance with their annual health and safety award.
Of Bellefeuille’s accomplishments George Botic, national representative, CAW Health, Safety and Environment Department, says “Susan has consistently been a resource in her workplace and within the CAW. She is generous in sharing her knowledge and through instructing in particular she has helped inspire hundreds of new health and safety activists. Susan is a tremendous ally in the fight for healthier, safer workplaces.”