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I was recently (May 1-3, 2011) in Washington DC to assist with the kick-off of North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week with our friends at the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). For the last 5 years I’ve been representing the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) at this event and I take the the opportunity to share some words of welcome and the Canadian safety story with our cousins to the south. We have a couple of speaking engagements – one at the OSHA headquarters at the Department of Labor Building and the other at the National Capitol Building. The latter event focusses on the winners of the ASSE’s Safety-on-the-Job Poster contest and their families. This year the theme revolved around young worker and transportation safety. I told them a little bit about what was happening in Canada. Thanks to the CCOHS and Operation Lifesaver for some facts and figures.
Here’s my speech for your reading pleasure:
Good afternoon and thank you once again for this opportunity to address you during the launch of NAOSH Week 2011. I’d like to take this time to talk about a few things going on in Canada related to workplace health and safety for young workers. I’ll also spend some time addressing transportation safety issues that impact us as well.
In Canada we define a young worker as anyone between the ages of 15 to 25 who goes to work and gets paid. We might have a few young workers in the audience today but I imagine that some of you have older sisters and brothers who fit in this age range and who have a part time or full time job.
In Canada, like here in the US, we have very good labour laws that ensure that we don’t employ very young people in places of work. These laws are very well enforced and provide effective protection for young people so that they’re not exposed to dangerous workplace conditions.
We still have lots of work to do though to protect young people who are allowed to go to work to earn money. Unfortunately, while we have good safety laws, as you do here, too many young people are being killed or injured at work. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, young workers are more likely to be injured on the job than adults. On average every year about 40 young people are killed on the job in Canada.
And each year, 48,000 young workers are injured seriously enough that they miss time from work. That’s equivalent to 2 to 3 school buses full of young people being injured every day at work.
We know we have to do a better job of protecting our children at work and many of our provinces have implemented special programs to raise awareness of young worker safety. Some regions have safety professionals go into high schools to talk to young people about safety before they go out to their first summer jobs. Some provinces have actually developed school curriculum to help teachers talk about workplace hazards and how to protect yourself. We have special awareness campaigns around the country to get the message out to parents and young people. We even have poster contests like the one that you are a part of and we also have contests where we ask young people to create safety videos that will be shared with their communities. These are good things but we have a long way to go to make sure that young people are able to leave school, go to work and come home safely.
We also have a lot of work to do to make sure that the trip to school, to work or back home is safe as well. One of the hazards to that safe trip home is one of these things (a cellphone). In the workplace you wouldn’t call a friend or text them while you’re operating a fork lift. But why is it that we think it’s ok to drive a 3000 pound car while on the phone. Driving is a privilege for all of us. It requires training, skill and all of our concentration. Phones aren’t the only issue. There are many other distractions that can cause problems as well. In Canada we’re doing our part to decrease the distractions to that safe drive. Like here in the US, most of our provinces have enacted laws to restrict distractions while driving and many have banned the use of cellphones while operating a vehicle.
Not only do we have to worry about cars but many of us have to get around by taking the train or walking or driving near the rails. And not only is it NAOSH Week, it is also Rail Safety Week in Canada. The good news is that we are doing a much better job at railway safety.
Since 1980 the number of crossing collisions (where a train and motor vehicle collide) in Canada has fallen dramatically from over 800 annually to approximately 200 in 2010. While this reduction speaks to the success of safety efforts undertaken in that time, there still remains unnecessary loss of life and injury with 79 fatalities and 47 serious injuries occurring in 2010 as a result of crossing collisions and trespassing on rail property.
In Canada we have an group called Operation Lifesaver. They are a non-profit organization focused on preventing accidents associated with train collisions with motor vehicles and trespassing on rail property. During Rail Safety Week they are asking parents, young people, teachers, emergency response providers, and motorists to take a moment to learn about the basic rail-safety information that could one day save their life.
They’ve even created a pretty cool website with some amazing resources for young people called “Train Your Brain”. The link is olkids.ca. Please do check it out.
I’d like to leave you with one final thought.
Safety is a skill that requires conscious effort. Safety doesn’t just happen…it is caused. Please think about workplace and transportion hazards and cause safety to happen to you and your family.
Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day.
Just noticed that the North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week poster, resource guide and safety calendar are now available for download on the Canadian NAOSH Week Website. Make sure you download these great resources for health and safety week from May 1 to 7th this year!
The theme this year is What’s Your Plan? It’s an evolution from last year when NAOSH Week asked How Safe Are You? With this knowledge you can then start putting plans in place to improve your safety performance.
Please do let the NAOSH Week Team know about your events. There’s an Events section on the website to promote what you’re doing in your workplace and there’s a prize for one lucky entry.
For our US friends check out the ASSE NAOSH Week site for terrific information about what’s going on down south.
Check out these great resources and make your plan to celebrate occupational health and safety in the first week of May!
Cause safety to happen in your community in May and all year round….Andrew….a Canadian Safety Guy
In May, I had the great honour to attend the US Launch of NAOSH Week in Washington DC with the folks from ASSE and OSHA. For the past four years I have represented the CSSE at the US Launch as the CSSE Secretary and Chair of the Canadian NAOSH Week Committee. I normally provide greetings from Canada to the guests at the Department of Labor and then have a second opportunity to tell a story during an event at the US Capitol Building. Here is the safety story (text of speech) I shared with the folks at the Capitol Building:
Thank you again for this wonderful opportunity to share the US Launch of NAOSH Week with you. This is my fourth year as part of these celebrations and I’m always humbled by the commitment of the Safety Poster Contest entrants and their families. You are truly the next generation of safety advocates and workplace leaders who will bring about much needed change so that all workers will return home at the end of the work day to their friends and families.
During this brief time that we have together, I’d like to share with you some of my first experiences in the world of work and workplace safety. I’d like to take you back to my first real summer job when I was a younger man of only 20 years of age.
I had been going to school in Ottawa, our nations’ capital, and had made plans to stay in Ottawa versus going back to my hometown of Sarnia in Ontario. I was going to sublet an apartment and work in the convenience store at the campus residence centre and was excited about spending the summer in the beautiful city of Ottawa. Five dollars an hour was good pay compared to the same money sweating at the restaurant at home that I normally worked at.
While I was busy making these plans my father was too. You see my father worked at one of the large petrochemical plants in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley. At one time the Chemical Valley was the largest collection of gasoline, rubber, plastics and specialty chemicals industries in Canada. It was my father’s hope that I could get a summer job at his plant to make some real money for school. So he had me put in an application.
It was John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans.”
My plans to stay in Ottawa were going to have to change. I’d gotten that job at my father’s plant and I’d be making the huge wage of $11 per hour. $11 dollars per hour…I liked the sound of that…just imagine….more money than I had ever made before. I’d be able to pay for school and have money left over. It really wasn’t a hard decision to make. 5 bucks vs. 11 bucks…easy.
So the school year was finished. My dad drove to Ottawa, picked me up and drove me back home to Sarnia. Time to start earning that money.
The new workplace was big, complex and like nothing I’d ever seen before.
I’d heard stories about it from my dad. He’d tell me about his work and how safety was his number one priority. He’d tell me about his responsibilities as a maintenance supervisor and his work on the plant fire team. I even remember the story about the time he had to kick some contractors offsite for not following safety rules. My dad was the first safety leader I knew and he’d become one due to the culture that was part of the plant. All good stuff, but man was this place big…and serious.
The first few days was orientation….safety orientation. Three days…we met the safety pros, the hygienists, and even got to learn how to put out real fires with fire extinguishers. We also heard about how important safety was at the company. It was a real eye opener.
While the orientation was going on, we were also starting to get dribs and drabs of information about our jobs…what we’d be doing. I was good to do anything…afterall what kind of hard stuff could they give me…I didn’t really have any skills…it would have to be something simple. So…I’d be working at the Inspection Lab for the refinery side of the business, where they did quality checks on the different gasoline and chemical products. OK…but what would I be doing there?
Later in the day…more details…it looked like I’d be a Truck Driver. I know, you’re thinking, wow that’d be a nice job…driving around the plant picking up samples and dropping them off…no problem…well just one…I did have a drivers license but it was for a motorcycle….the only car, or truck, I’d ever driven had been in a video game…
So being a young man of little experience…what did I do…I said nothing and started to get more and more nervous as the orientation continued.
I was even starting to have scary thoughts and dreams of driving the truck and getting into accidents and hurting myself and others. By the end of day 3 that was enough, I fessed up and told them I couldn’t drive but I would get my license as soon as I could. They were a little miffed as my admission meant they needed to change their plans to accommodate me. The crazy thing was they’d never asked on the application or before giving me the job if I could drive a truck. Being my first real job I already thought that I wasn’t making a very good impression.
So to work…I ended up working in the Inspection Lab testing samples of gasoline and diesel fuel. Not a bad job. After about a month I finally did get my drivers licence so I could drive around the plant as the need arose. Good thing as I was to be given a project that would take me all over.
So the summer passed…I’d been working for a few months and it was time to start the new project. I was toured around by one of the staff techs, a nice fellow who took the time to show me around the plant and show me the ropes. I liked working with him – he wasn’t mad at me like my regular supervisor was over the driving thing. The new project was great. In the afternoon, after I’d done my lab checks, I’d have to go to every place in the plant that had a sample point to stick a metal sample point identification tag to it. It was great…I got to go all over…climb huge oil tanks…butane spheres…you name it I saw it. I thought it was really cool…until I got to the big bunker oil tank…my problem was with the signs…they scared me.
The big bunker oil tank was huge. You had to climb up a large winding metal staircase to get to the top where it was sampled from. What did the signs say that got me all concerned? Danger…H2S…could be fatal if inhaled. Not only did the signs scare me but I was also starting to think back to one of the sessions from the safety orientation where they talked about the dangers of hydrogen sulfide…it smells like rotten eggs and in large amounts it would shut down your ability to smell it and then if concentrations got higher it would kill you. This stuff is nasty and it is known for killing in groups. Normally, the first person would go down and then someone would see that they were in need of help and they would go to help them and themselves be overcome. I realized that before I went up those stairs I needed to talk to someone. I went to see my supervisor.
So we had a chat – him and I. I told him about the signs, the tank and my concerns about my safety. He was good. He listened. Then he came up with a solution. Here’s what we would do…the truck driver would come with me when I went to the tank the next time.
The driver would have a respirator to supply air ready and if I collapsed on the stairs he would put it on and come and get me.
It was now that I realized that being a truck driver was a good thing. I also realized that I didn’t really like the plan that much. I had a much better, safer solution. That tank wasn’t going to get a sample tag. I also realized that at the end of the day it was my life and I really didn’t like someone else making these important decisions for me. I had to be responsible for myself.
It was a good job with some good lessons learned. I’d gotten excited about safety and decided not to go back to University but instead to take the safety program at the local community college. This is where I got my start.
I learned that even though we set high expectations on employers to exercise care, ultimately we are responsible for our own lives and need to make our own decisions about the risks that we accept.
Individually, we have the most to lose and the most to gain. I also learned to speak up and ask the difficult question or say the difficult thing. Sometimes things have to be hard before they can get any better.
The work that I do and that many in this room do is vitally important to our fellow workers and their families. Businesses and other organizations have a duty of care to protect their people. The efforts of the safety professional are the expression of that duty. We save lives and make working conditions better so that we can all share in the dream of a prosperous life.
Thanks for listening and hopefully learning from my experiences. I’ve really enjoyed sharing this day with you. Please accept my thanks and the appreciation of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering for this amazing NAOSH Week celebration.
The Wednesday of NAOSH Week is a special day – Occupational Safety and Health Professional Day. This day is celebrated across North America and it recognizes the amazing contribution of safety professionals in workplaces and communities.
Safety professionals are tasked with guiding organizations, leaders and workers to an understanding of workplace risks and required control measures so that the health and safety of people, property and the environment is protected. Every day, hundreds of thousands of companies and institutions in Canada and the United States rely on these professionals as internal resources or external advisors to make sure their people get to go home at the end of the work day.
Safety professionals save lives, improve working conditions and are a vital part of an organization’s corporate social responsibility promise.
Here’s a short video from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) about the value of OSH Professionals:
…Andrew…a Canadian Safety Guy