"Education is a never-ending journey.” This is Troy Tanner’s approach to health and safety, one fuelled
with passion and conviction.
A member of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 1520 and fulltime trainer at the Ford St. Thomas assembly plant, Tanner was just 17-years-old when he started work at the plant. “Things were a lot different back then,” he says. “Very few chemicals were labeled and we had little information about what we were working with.” By comparison, he says new recruits to the job today receive six days of training before they start work, including critical health and safety training.
For the last 10 years, Tanner has spent countless hours ensuring other workers understand their legal right to know about hazardous materials on the job and the right to be trained in their safe use.
But Tanner’s commitment to health and safety extends well beyond the plant gate. A member of the Saugeen First Nation in Port Elgin, Tanner brings his native perspective to a unique initiative with the Oneida of the Thames First Nation near London, Ontario.
The community’s band council is the first in Canada, Tanner says, to develop a policy to provide health and safety training to their staff. Over the last three years, Tanner has trained close to 200 Oneida staff, from teachers to daycare staff, office workers to the fire department, in both generic and hazard-class Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) programs. He’s also provided WHMIS training to Oneida youth as part of their life skills training program.
Robert Antone is youth programs coordinator for Oneida Employment and Training. “Troy is a great resource for us and other First Nations. His passionate approach to health and safety is inspiring. He especially motivates our young people in their career development and emphasizes the importance of health and safety regardless of the work they choose.”
For his part, Tanner enjoys the varied challenges of training. “Whether it’s elementary or high school students or adults they all have different ways of learning. As an instructor it forces you to put all of your skills to work, to innovate, adapt and overcome on your feet.”
Tanner credits the ongoing support of his union local in allowing him time away from the plant to facilitate these community training courses.
Calling it a long-term dream, Tanner hopes for the day when First Nations have their own self-directed national health and safety agency.
In the meantime, he looks to the future through the eyes of London area students whom he reaches with the CAW/WHSC Earth Day program. He’s been a presenter since the program began five years ago. This year in two weeks alone he estimates he logged 1,400 kilometers traveling from school to school in London and its surrounding rural communities. Says Tanner, “As with any issue, the more information young people have the more likely they are to ask questions and hopefully become part of the solution.”
Having recently completed a college program, Tanner is one of only 28 indigenous community workers in Canada. For him it’s all about healing. “Workers right to know and the community right to know are interconnected. What workers learn about hazards on the job they will inevitably take home and share with family and friends. In the end, I believe this can heal not only workplaces, but entire communities by making them safe and healthy.”