Workers Health & Safety Centre

Training key to safer work and learning, say scholarship winners

With incidents of harassment and violence in our schools and communities mounting, tapping into the insight of students can be an important step in the pursuit of prevention.     

Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) did just this with our 21st annual WHSC Student Scholarship Contest. A key part of the application process is to submit an essay. This year we asked students to “Explain your experience with violence and/or harassment in your workplace if you can, or location such as your school, if you have yet to experience violence at work. Explain what you think should have been done to prevent this harm, what prevention resources are needed in future and what can be done to create better awareness of the need for action and resources.”

“While it is alarming to read the many stories of bullying, harassment and violence these young people experience and witness, it is inspiring to learn of their vision for safer work and learning spaces. They after all are the future of work.” explains Andrew Mudge, WHSC executive director.
In addition to the essay requirement, scholarship candidates were invited to share their contributions to the quality of life in their school and community, both in their own words and in a letter of recommendation from a teacher, other educator, or representative of a community organization. The combination of the two application elements (scores weighted ¾ for the essay and ¼ for co-curricular activities) determined four scholarships of $2,000 each, plus a top award of $5,000 and a second-place winner receiving $3,000. WHSC established the top awards in honour of Clifford Pilkey, WHSC’s founder and former president of the Ontario Federation of Labour and long-time WHSC board member, former president of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union and social justice leader, Fred Upshaw.

Students highlight need for awareness

Calvin Cao, a graduate of Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School in London and recipient of the Clifford Pilkey Scholarship, shared his experience with hate-motivated harassment in his school and questioned why more proactive prevention efforts weren’t in place. He cited specific concerns with the lack of a fully transparent anti-harassment policy for the school and a flawed reporting mechanism. In his essay, he also recognized “More awareness needs to be raised about employers’ responsibility to create a hate-free workplace.” In fact, he explained “Ontario should consider adding diversity training as a mandatory component of OHSA basic training.”
The essay submitted by Fred Upshaw Scholarship recipient Akila Ganesh from Bur Oak Secondary School in Markham stood out in many ways. Perhaps most enlightening was her experience witnessing sexual harassment while a volunteer at a local hospital. She suggested the sensationalizing of sexual harassment of health care workers in popular television programming may be adding fuel to this fire. She explained, “Film and media organizations should highlight the importance of treating healthcare workers with respect. Not sexualizing health care workers and portraying the seriousness of harassment and violence may dissuade people from acting like this in the future.”

Anne Pettigrew, scholarship recipient and graduate of Toronto’s Hudson College, also spoke to this same issue in her essay suggesting the need for mandatory training for new workers including a focus on sexual harassment. She also suggests harassment and violence awareness resources are failing to reach a wide enough audience and must target “the spaces that young people frequent—in schools and on social media platforms.”
Scholarship recipient Abbie Aikman, graduate of Belleville’s Bayside Secondary School, shared her experiences witnessing significant aggressive behaviour towards teachers. She suggested the pursuit of broader awareness, and ultimately prevention, must include dedicated school curriculum.
The essay submitted by scholarship recipient Shaarmin Khan, a graduate of Sinclair Secondary School in Whitby, echoed similar sentiments suggesting workplace violence and harassment training be a requirement to graduate from high school. She also wrote of the need for clear and inviting mechanisms for reporting potential or actual incidents along with policy-driven commitments from school administrators not to turn a blind eye.   

Shayna Sharma, scholarship winner and graduate of The Woodlands Secondary School in Mississauga, touched on this same point explaining many who experience violence and harassment “fail to come forward due to the fear of being punished, being gaslighted into thinking that it’s not a big deal, or worrying nothing will change.” Obviously, this is why prevention is so crucial. To this point, Shayna’s essay also highlights the fact employers have the most significant obligation to prevent workplace violence and harassment and training is a critical part of this obligation.
“I am encouraged by the response we had from students who took the time to participate in this scholarship initiative and congratulate the successful candidates,” says Mudge. “These enlightened students give me great hope the next generation of advocates can help lead efforts to achieve safer workplaces, schools and communities.”     

Please note: No portion of WHSC revenues or government grants support this scholarship contest. WHSC contributions to this important occupational health and safety awareness and post-secondary education initiative are financed solely through funds raised at the annual Clifford Pilkey Memorial Golf Fundraiser. 

The scholarship contest is open to Ontario high school students entering full-time or part-time studies at a publicly funded Ontario post-secondary institution. Please keep an eye out for details of the 2024 scholarship contest to be posted online and promoted through various WHSC media channels in early 2024.

Meet the 2023 WHSC Student Scholarship winners.

WHSC role in support of safer work and learning spaces

Ontario’s official government-designated training centre, WHSC delivers hazard-based, prevention-focused training to workplaces in all sectors of the economy. Some of these programs are legally mandated including workplace violence and harassment, joint health & safety committee certification, supervisor, worker awareness, GHS-WHMIS and working at heights.
Further, WHSC offers an extensive collection of information resources including a number aimed at students and other new and young workers.
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