September 29, 2020

BY KRIS MANUEL

Knowing your workplace safety rights can save you from losing a limb or even your life.

In 2010, 1,014 people died working on the job in Canada, according to the Association Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC). The highest number of those fatalities occurred in Ontario, which accounted for about 38 per cent of those deaths.

The three most dangerous work industries were construction, manufacturing, and transportation and storage industries, according to a CBC article in April that looked at the boards’ total deaths between 2008 and 2012.

Again, Ontario had the highest fatalities in each of these industries during that time span.

At Conestoga College, which offers courses in these types of industries, safety is something that is of high importance.

“We have high-risk areas like the machine shop and the woodworking. You could imagine the hazards that are present in woodworking alone with those machines, what kind of injuries can happen if the proper procedures weren’t followed,” said Conestoga College’s Health and Safety officer, John Anderson.

Which is why Greg White, chair of Conestoga’s trade and apprenticeship program and co-chair of Waterloo’s Health and Safety Committee, puts a high importance on building safety courses for trades and apprenticeship students who work with a lot of tools and machinery.

“We spend a lot of time instilling safety in these folks because it’s an industry where you can get killed very quickly,” he said. “They’re going out of (the college) with more safety skills at the expense of some vocational skills, but if I had to balance the two, I’d rather have it higher on the safety side. It’s such a dangerous working environment if you’re not careful.”

However, White said he is proud of the program’s safety record, which has very few cases where students lost school time. He said accidents do happen, “but we haven’t had anyone lose a limb or a finger in the machining areas.”

“I’m a machinist by trade and I still have all my fingers, so I’m proud of that,” said White.

Anderson said it’s important that Conestoga College graduates heading into the workplace are trained in an effective safety program.

“The first reason (for that) is to keep everybody safe. The second reason is our reputation in the community,” he said. “It reflects on all of us.”

White encourages students and employees to fill out accidents reports, even if some of those accidents involve minor scrapes, bruises or bumps.

“If it is something we could correct, it allows us to prevent a minor accident one day becoming a major accident the next,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a great teachable moment.”

These lessons become very useful in the workplace.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour website, an average of about 50 young workers in Ontario under the age of 25 are injured or killed on the job every day.

Workers have the right to be informed about the hazards and how they can stay safe, even if that means having to refuse unsafe work from their employer, which is part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

For those who are worried about losing their job over standing up for their own protection, the Ontario Ministry of Labour website states that it is illegal for an employer to penalize a worker for doing so.

“If you feel you have been punished (such as being fired, sent home without pay or having your work hours cut significantly), you can report this to the Ministry of Labour.”

However, the right to refuse unsafe work has its exceptions. Some workers’ duties involve working in dangerous situations as part of their job description, such as police officers, firefighters and some health-care workers.

For more information about safety and rights in the workplace, visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s website at www.labour.gov.on.ca