After 22 years of funding a lifesaving prevention message for Ontario high school students, the Ontario government has shut down the WHSC Young Worker Awareness Program (YWAP).
The Workers Health & Safety Centre’s 2015/16 application to deliver YWAP through the Ministry of Labour’s Occupational Health and Safety Prevention and Innovation Program
) was denied on the basis it supposedly did not fit the MOL’s Strategic Plan. Nor was it deemed by the Ministry to offer ‘value for money’.
Almost 30 years ago, WHSC saw the need to develop and deliver health and safety awareness resources for new and young workers. This included information on rights and responsibilities, especially the right to employer-provided health and safety training, and on common work hazards. In a unique partnership with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation
, WHSC-trained, Ontario-qualified teachers delivered these awareness programs to high school students across Ontario.
This early, repeated success was recognized in 1993 with a separate grant from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (then WCB). Year after year demand for this popular program outstripped its resources. In the final report to the Ministry covering January 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015, WHSC conveyed YWAP achievements consistent with past years
. These included:
Presentations to 42,797 students, in 1,721 mostly small classroom-style presentations, and delivered in some 80 communities throughout the province.
Outreach to students from vulnerable populations and attending alternative schools, aboriginal schools, schools for the disabled, schools in correctional facilities and other vulnerable students through social agencies working with homeless, at-risk youth and recent immigrants to Canada.
Ninety-eight per cent and more of educators who booked the presentation rated the program as excellent or very good, said it helped them achieve curriculum objectives and would recommend the presentation to other schools.
Some 88 per cent of responding students said it was very important or important to attend this presentation.
Among other resources, each student benefited from a resource booklet, and a wallet card with helpful questions to ask their boss about workplace health and safety, and others explaining WHMIS and the worker right to refuse unsafe work.
Most important, each student had face-to-face access with a WHSC-trained, Ontario-qualified teacher – a trusted source, there to share their knowledge and answer student questions.
All of this was delivered at a cost of $7.00/student.
Meantime, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) reports the average cost of a single lost-time injury to be more than $106,500 (2007 data).
Reaching vulnerable workers
New and young workers are three times more likely to be injured during their first month of work. Communicating with students about health and safety before they enter the workplace becomes even more crucial says Rhonda Kimberley-Young, OTF secretary-treasurer. In a letter supporting the WHSC’s YWAP funding application, she wrote, “This is a critical entry point at which to reach them; schools provide the best opportunity.”
The value of leveraging the public education
system to reach a large segment of new and indeed vulnerable workers was also acknowledged by the government-appointed Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety. Their 2010 report reported a 45 per cent drop in lost-time injuries among young workers from 2000 to 2008, a success they largely attribute to the prevention systems’ young worker education efforts—efforts they recommended should continue.
The MOL’s newly funded projects, some very narrow in scope and others which only address groups of 200 or more, will reach too few of Ontario’s vulnerable young workers. Moreover, judging by the organizations sponsoring these groups, the message students will receive will be come from a corporate perspective, rather than the worker perspective central to all WHSC programs.
Cuts at odds with stated gov’t priorities
The move to cut funding to WHSC YWAP is out of step with the province’s stated commitment to identify and address the health and safety needs of vulnerable workers. For example, they recently expanded the Occupational Health & Safety Act’s
definition of worker to include unpaid co-op students and other learners and trainees. For an eighth consecutive year they are also running a fourth month long new and young worker summer inspection blitz
. Key among its goals—checking that these workers are properly informed, instructed and supervised.
With the loss of a separate YWAP grant and recent cuts to the WHSC’s core budget, the WHSC is unable to honour future requests for YWAP presentations. Dave Killham, WHSC executive director concludes, “All indicators suggest the well-being of new and young workers is far from secure. We believe WHSC’s YWAP did and can still play an important role in informing and protecting Ontario’s new and young workers. It is our sincere hope the government reconsiders
their position and reinstates funding for this popular and proven program.”
WHSC offers a wide range of training programs
to support all workplace parties, including new and young workers
. For more information:
Call: 1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training service representative