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.