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Safety Stewards: working to prevent workplace injuries

The Report: November / December 1999 vol.20 num.4

by RACHEL NOTLEY & YUKIE KURAHASHI

HSA currently enjoys the privilege of having over 200 members who volunteer torepresent their fellow members by advocating for a safe and healthy workplace.

At the same time, however, we also have over 20 facilities that do not currently havesafety stewards. This role is critical, and volunteers are needed.

With the recent introduction of new health and safety regulations (April 1998) andproclamation of new health and safety legislation (October 1999), HSA members have newrights and new safety standards at their disposal to protect them from illness or injuryin their workplaces.

However, these new rights and standards must be implemented by the employer and must beenforced - both by the WCB and workers with the help of the Safety Steward.

The role of the Safety Steward is to act as a watchdog on non-compliance, and participatein the development of measures designed to enhance workplace health and safety.

The new legislation sets out that every employer with 20 or more employees (includingmanagement) must have a workplace committee and at least two worker chosen SafetyStewards.

Any workplace with 10 to 20 employees must have a worker safety representative (i.e. theyparticipate in inspections and investigations and deal directly with the employer onhealth and safety matters as there is no safety committee at the worksite because of itssmaller size).

This new requirement means that there must be Safety Stewards in workplaces thatdidnt previously have them.

In addition, the new legislation obliges the employer to give stewards one paid day ofleave per year for the purposes of health and safety education. HSA supplements this withthree days of education on health and safety issues for each steward.

Safety Stewards play a critically important role at the workplace. Members who haveconcerns about hazards at the workplace can take those concerns to the Safety Steward whowill be sure that it is dealt with through the health and safety committee and/ or throughthe legislation and regulations.

Safety Stewards conduct worksite inspections, talking to workers and identifying hazardsto the employer that require fixing. They engage in accident investigations when anaccident takes place. And they participate in the development of and subsequent monitoringof employer initiatives aimed at reducing hazards in the workplace. Finally, they act as aliaison between the members at the worksite and the HSA head office on health and safetyissues that require provincial attention.

Vivian Campsall, a safety steward at Fort St. John General Hospital, says being able tomake a real difference to the work lives of her co-workers makes the job worthwhile."I advocated for better ventilation in the lab because the air intake was at streetlevel," she said. "In Fort St. John, people leave their cars running outside theair intake in the winter, so this was a problem. Im very health conscious. Ididnt want people to be exposed to toxic fumes all day. And now weve gotfunding to fix all that, very shortly. I feel very good about it."

George Jolly, the safety steward for the Mount Pleasant unit of Greater Vancouver MentalHealth Services, encourages fellow members to become involved. "Im glad thatIm a safety steward. Ive really enjoyed it, and if anyone else gets a chanceto do it, they should do it," he said. "It opens your eyes and makes you awareof whats in the contract."

Jolly has high praise for the training HSA offers to prepare stewards for their variousroles. "Take the safety course. I found that was very helpful, because it gives you ahistory of the WCB. A lot of times employers will give you the impression thattheyre doing us a favour by paying for WCB benefits, but thats because yearsago we gave up the right to sue employers for workplace injuries," he said."That gave me a different slant on the WCB, and that makes it much easier for me totell people its their right if they have an injury to be forceful in making surethey receive the service they need and deserve."

Jolly says violence in the workplace is a particularly big issue for workers at GVMHS."For example, we had a clerical staff member who was hit by a crowbar," he said."We get people who are traumatized and disturbed and angry. At Mount Pleasant, wehave zero-tolerance for any kind of violence, whether its verbal or physicalthreats. Our staff is too important."

A few facilities currently do not have designated Safety Stewards. If you work at oneof these facilities and would like to be a Safety Steward, contact either your ChiefSteward or Rachel Notley at the HSA office for more information.

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