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Pilot safety training program launched for young workers in manufacturing


June 22, 2011
By Mary Del


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Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and Skills Canada are targeting young workers in the manufacturing industry with a new worker orientation program that highlights workplace hazards. Dubbed SafeWorkStart, the one-day pilot program was launched on June 20 at Festo, Inc., in Mississauga, Ont.

The program, aimed at young and new workers, aged 16 to 25, working in manufacturing, incorporates the recommendations from the Dean Panel report to include roles and responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), as well as the principles of recognition, assessment and control. It focuses on five major hazards in the manufacturing industry: machines, chemicals, slips/trips/falls, manual material handling and mechanical material handling.

Research shows that young, new workers are five to eight times as likely to be injured in their first month on the job as workers who have worked for a year. In addition, only 20 percent of young workers have health and safety training when they begin work. Many small and medium-sized firms do not have the capacity to offer orientation for their inexperienced workers.

“At the ministry, one of our biggest concerns is new and young workers,” Ontario labour minister Charles Sousa said at the formal launch of the pilot program at the Festo facility. “Young workers are the province’s number one resource and we need to protect this resource.”

In 2009 alone, 7,527 young workers were injured on the job. Although this number is a 30 percent improvement from the previous year, “we have to do more,” Sousa said.

SafeWorkStart is a one-day intensive course providing basic entry-level training that introduces the risks of various types of hazards in the manufacturing industry and ways to control them. At the end of the program, the participant will be able to: list worker’s rights and responsibilities under the OHSA; describe the principles of recognition, assessment and control; and explain the common hazards in the manufacturing industry and their controls.

“There’s tremendous courage in young people today,” said Rob Ellis, founder of My Safe Work — a website dedicated to young workers — and father of David Ellis, a young worker who died from a workplace accident in 1999. “They’re asking tougher questions and that’s a good thing. As leaders and champions we want more questions.”

Ellis noted that continued innovation in safety and technology are drivers for the improvements in workplace health and safety.

“The innovation in our Canadian operations has improved safety and improved productivity,” he said, adding that “safety with innovation and leadership engagement” are key to moving the safety agenda forward.

Young workers need to know what their workplace rights are, what the hazards of their work are, and that they have the right to refuse unsafe work — vital knowledge that could have prevented Eric Olivieri, a 20-year-old worker, from being severely injured on the job four years ago.

Olivieri’s legs and arm were crushed by a slab of steel while helping out a fellow worker at a machine shop in Stoney Creek, Ont., when he was just 16. At the launch event, Olivieri retold his story to the audience, putting a face to the issue of young worker safety.

Today, Olivieri is a volunteer speaker with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, helping spread the message of workplace safety among young people across the province. He is also studying to be a paramedic.

“I’m the lucky one,” said Olivieri. “I didn’t lose my life. I didn’t lose my legs.”

So many young people aren’t as lucky. And while accident frequency is down, there is more to do.

The SafeWorkStart training program’s goal is to eliminate workplace accidents. The program is expected to be available for the manufacturing sector by fall of 2011, after which similar programs will be rolled out to other industries.

With files from Mari-Len De Guzman, Canadian Occupational Safety