Learning to Work Safely

"I bring in someone who I used to work with. He lost his hand and he isn’t much older than these kids," says Yvon Larivičre of Hawkesbury, describing what it’s like when he talks to a class about health and safety at work.


By Rosemarie Bahr

A disproportionate number of young people get injured at work.

Students need to learn their rights and to ask questions.

Larivičre works at Ivaco, making steel products, and is a member of the United Steelworkers. He is one of hundreds of business people, union activists and retired teachers who spend time in classrooms throughout the province making young people aware that workplaces can be dangerous.

In 1999 in Ontario, 16 people between the ages of 15 and 24 were killed on the job. In 1998, it was 18 – 16 young men and two young women.

Every year, more than 15,000 young people are injured on the job. The most common injuries are strains and sprains, damage to soft tissues like cuts, punctures and bruises, broken bones, joint inflammation and burns. Proportionately, more people in this age group are injured and die at work than in any other group

Retired teacher Doug McAndless has examples and stories to illustrate all kinds of risks these Hill Park Secondary School students will face any day on the job.


Doug McAndless tells Barbara Tkach’s Grade 9 Introduction to Business students about a woman he knows who, at age 19, can’t pick up a cup with her left hand because she has carpal tunnel syndrome. She’d been working part-time as a cashier since she was 14. As he explains that the syndrome, common in people who use computers, involves compressing the nerves in the wrist, half the students flex at least one hand, testing. They can identify with that. They all use computers.

A retired teacher who lives in London, McAndless is spending the day at Hill Park Secondary School in Hamilton, telling students that they need to ask questions and that they have rights when it comes to their health and safety in the workplace.

The class watches a video that features two young workers injured at their job. It reinforces three points: all employees, even part-time students, have the right to know about the hazards in their workplace, the right to participate in health and safety committees at work and the right to refuse work they think is unsafe.


McAndless shows an overhead of the WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) symbols and of the symbols that mark hazardous consumer products. He extracts a promise from the students that if they see one of these symbols on anything they need to handle at work, they will go straight to their employer and ask for training on how to use the product.

A few students already have jobs. McAndless asks about hazards where they work and about their training. He has examples and stories to illustrate every situation.

Jane McCormick teaches co-op education at West Hill Secondary School in Owen Sound. During her four years there, they’ve had McAndless or someone else from the Workers Health and Safety Centre present the Young Worker Awareness Program. "We can read the resource package," McCormick says, "but it is the stories and the interaction that really drive the point home to the students."

She adds, "Most of these kids have part-time jobs, and Doug always asks them if there’s a health and safety committee at their work. Ninety-nine per cent of them don’t know. A lot of these jobs are in fast food restaurants and places that are high risk as far as accidents happening. It is incredibly scary, but by far the majority of kids have had zero or minimal safety training from their employer."


McAndless co-ordinates the Young Worker Awareness Program for the Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC), a province-wide organization that delivers training programs on workplace health and safety, primarily through union members who are trained instructors.

Presenters of the Young Worker Awareness Program reach more than 36,000 students a year in Ontario. First developed in 1988 by the Workers Health and Safety Centre and the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, the program has evolved into a joint project of the WHSC and the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA), an association of industrial sector companies that also delivers health and safety training programs.

The Young Worker Awareness Program is funded through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, formerly the Workers’ Compensation Board. Materials and presentations are available in English and French. Both the centre and the association deliver the program. The IAPA uses volunteers from the business community and the WHSC uses retired teachers and sometimes union members.

The presenters, whether they are retired teachers booked through the Workers Health and Safety Centre or business people booked through the Industrial Accident Prevention Association, share a passion for the topic and the well-being of the students.


Anne Wilson, a retired elementary teacher in Timiskaming and a past president of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, travels from Gravenhurst as far as Cochrane to deliver the Young Worker Awareness Program. She’s one of more than 40 retired teachers recruited by McAndless. Wilson says that all the time she spends on this project will be worth it if it prevents one young person getting injured.

She says, "For the students I think it is an opportunity to have a different face in front of them telling them about something different from what their co-op teacher would be saying. I think many of them remember the examples more than they remember the other stuff. But that’s the whole purpose behind the examples, of course."

One example that retired Peel teacher Neil Davis uses is the story of Sean Kells. Sean Kells was pouring a flammable chemical from one ungrounded drum to another when it exploded. It was his third day on the part-time job and he hadn’t been told that what he was doing could be dangerous. He was 19 when he died.

A student in one of Davis’ classes said that’s what she did, pour a chemical from a large drum into smaller ones. "I pressed her," said Davis, "asking what the chemicals were. She didn’t know."

Davis asked if they were labelled. She’d never checked. Davis asked how could she do the job when she hadn’t considered the safety features. Her response was, says Davis, "If it had been dangerous, he wouldn’t have asked me to do it."


He continues, "They trust mom and dad, they trust their teacher. They transfer that trust to the employer, and that is where things break down because the employer doesn’t have the stake in the young person’s life and welfare that the teacher does."
Davis, in talking with the students, has learned "there is a tremendous gap between what the law says is supposed to happen and what young people are experiencing in workplaces."

He says, "They leave the session, if nothing else, a little more aware of the fact that all jobs are potentially risky, but that there are rights in the law. If you have the courage to promote them, stand up for them, they will be acknowledged."

Schools also regularly invite presenters from the IAPA. IAPA consultant John VanLenthe has been presenting the Young Worker Awareness Program for more than four years in schools from Burlington to Oakville. He comments, "We’re starting to get through to them that training is important, that they just can’t do things without asking questions. They’re young, they want to impress the boss. They want to do the job. Getting around the whole mindset about not asking questions is difficult. We as an employer or supervisor have to make sure they have the information."

Ellen Shaeen-Hanright, another IAPA instructor, works at IMAX Corporation as the manager of occupational health and safety. She tells the students, "look out for yourself because it can happen to you. You are ultimately responsible for your safety." She finds that "kids want to talk" and that there’s more awareness since recent campaigns about the deaths of young workers like David Ellis and Sean Kells.


The story of David Ellis is the subject of a video used in another health and safety program, this one delivered by the United Steelworkers. The 18-year-old was killed in an industrial bread maker on his second day on the job.

The United Steelworkers started the Day of Mourning Young Workers’ Health and Safety Campaign in Ontario five years ago. The union decided that a positive way to mark April 28, the international Day of Mourning for workers injured and killed on the job, would be to educate students about workplace health and safety.

In the weeks leading up to April 28, Steelworkers contacted their local schools. The enthusiastic response from teachers and students to presentations by health and safety activists led the Steelworkers to expand the program to the rest of Canada two years ago, and last year, they talked with 30,000 students. Steelworkers now also respond to invitations at any time of the school year.

The content of the Steelworker program is similar to the Young Worker Awareness Program. Presentations and materials are available in French and Englis


For the last four years, the Greater Peterborough Safe Communities Coalition has been working on Passport to Safety, a pilot project to expand the health and safety training given in schools.

Safe community coalitions have arisen in several communities, stemming from the Safe Communities Foundation. The death at work of 19-year-old Sean Kells in 1994 led his father to set up the Safe Communities Foundation to help prevent any other families from experiencing the same loss. Working with a concept developed by the World Health Organization, communities set up safe community coalitions that develop health and safety programs targeted toward injuries prevalent in their area.

The passport in Passport to Safety is a booklet students get when they take their first health and safety course, which is the Young Worker Awareness Program. They get a stamp in the passport for each additional safety-related course they take to document their safety-related knowledge for potential employers.

Program sponsors hope that employers will give preference in hiring young people who have taken the courses. Some courses are provided by groups like the Red Cross, St. John’s Ambulance or the Y. Others are being developed by the Greater Peterborough group. Courses currently being offered to schools in the Peterborough area through this program are the Young Worker Awareness Program, WHMIS, "wear the gear" or using protective clothing and equipment, fire safety, and repetitive strain injuries.

So far, 4,000 Peterborough-area students are registered in the program, meaning they have taken at least the Young Worker Awareness Program, and 2,000 of those have taken at least one additional course.

Speaking as an employer, Safe Communities Coalition chair Tom Sayer notes,"It is a great advantage to us to have someone come in and have a basic awareness of safety in the workplace because they are going to be more receptive when I am trying to do my training with them." Sayer is manager of manufacturing at GE in Peterborough.

International Day of Mourning started in Canada
Fight for the living, mourn for the dead
In 1984, the Canadian Labour Congress declared April 28 to be an annual day of remembrance for workers killed and injured on the job. April 28 was chosen because this was the day that third reading took place for the first comprehensive Workers’ Compensation Act (Ontario 1914) in Canada.
The NDP introduced a private member’s bill to have the federal government recognize this date officially. On February 1, 1991, the Workers’ Mourning Day Act became law.
Since then the AFL-CIO in the United States has adopted April 28 as their Workers’ Memorial. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) organized the first International Day of Mourning on April 28, 1996


Sayer says the employers themselves have an obligation to do site-specific training when the student comes into the workplace. "What we are trying to do," he says, "is say there are certain tools that are out there available to you. There is a program called WHMIS and it’s the law, everybody has to do it. But they should know that if someone is asking them to work with something that there is a process here that tells them they should be able to get information about it."

The passport program is currently in its evaluation phase. Once that’s done, all or parts of the program may be made more widely available.

That would be good news for teachers, as changes to the curriculum place more emphasis on workplace health and safety. For instance, in the new Grade 10 Career Studies, a required half-credit course, students will "demonstrate understanding of how to maintain safety in the workplace and identify employees’ and employers’ rights and responsibilities."

With so many students working part-time and all students doing 40 hours of community work, it’s increasingly important they realize they need to ask the questions to make sure they’re safe.


Young Worker Awareness Program www.yworker.com

Workers Health and Safety Centre www.whsc.on.ca
To book a presentation, fax Doug McAndless at 519-672-2449 or e-mail: mcandless@gtn.net.

Industrial Accident Prevention Association www.iapa.on.ca
To book a presentation, phone toll-free in Ontario 1-800-406-iapa (4272).

Steelworkers Day of Mourning program www.uswa.ca
Contact Michael Lewis or Nancy Hutchison at 416-243-8792.

In the Peterborough area, Passport to Health and Safety, 

Live Safe Work Smart (coming soon) www.livesafeworksmart.net
A resource kit for Grades 9 and 10 is available. A similar kit for Grades 11 and 12 is being developed.