“It takes a village to raise a child,” proclaimed Jessica DiSabatino, Vice President of worker safety organization My Safe Work. This ancient African proverb was featured in an address to students from the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) who were completing their Level 1 apprenticeship schooling at the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades (CCAT) in late April. Kicking off 2018’s “Creating a Culture of Health & Safety at Work,” the annual seminar speaks to the importance of worker safety, and helps to imprint a deep awareness of workplace safety among Ontario’s future builders.

Creating a Culture of Health & Safety at Work, Carpenters Union Local 27Crowd gathered for the safety event, image by Jack Landau

DiSabatino passed the mic Mike Yorke, Carpenters Union Local 27 President, who served as the master of ceremonies for the event. After thanking contractor partners, Yorke took time to address the assembled students, reminding them that they “are embarking on a career that is incredible” but stressed that the union wants to ensure that they are “working in the safest conditions possible” and that new builders entering the industry know their rights in the workplace. 

Creating a Culture of Health & Safety at Work, Carpenters Union Local 27Rob Ellis of My Safe Work, image by Jack Landau

The event took on a more sombre tone when Rob Ellis of My Safe Work took to the podium, asking students and panel members to place themselves in the difficult position of a parent receiving a life-changing phone call. Ellis talked the young crowd through the horrifying process of being called to the hospital by his wife and informed that his 18-year old son has been fatally injured in a workplace accident. Ellis’ loss in 1999 led to his founding of My Safe Work, with a mission to educate workers and companies on workplace safety in an effort to spare families the suffering he and his family endured in the aftermath of his son's passing.

Next, students were invited to share their questions and concerns with a panel of health and safety representatives from some of the region’s most prominent construction firms, including; Enzo Garritano, President and CEO of Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA); Dan Fleming, Corporate Director of Occupational Health and Safety at EllisDon; Tracey Mooradian, Health and Safety Manager at Eastern Construction; Corey Lofft, Regional Health & Safety Manager at Pomerleau Construction; Jerry Cucchiara, Health & Safety Manager at Bondfield Construction; and Dan Maksymiu, Health & Safety Consultant at IHSA.

Creating a Culture of Health & Safety at Work, Carpenters Union Local 27Panel addressing students' questions, image by Jack Landau

Among the questions, one student drew from his experience as a drywall apprentice suffering from epilepsy, asking the panel members, "What do you have in place for workers with invisible injuries?" and following up with, "Do you encourage people to speak up about it?" Whether suffering from an invisible injury or taking medication with potential side effects that may impact the job, panelists agreed that these issues are a "topic gaining prominence in the industry" and that "people should speak up about their limitations so we can ensure that they are properly accommodated for.”

One student to take the mic was touched by Ellis’ story due to a similar loss in his own family caused by a drug-impaired worker. As a future builder concerned about how to address similar issues, he asked what measures a worker should take if they are aware of a co-worker abusing substances on the job. Jerry Cucchiara reminded the crowd that "a lot of companies have a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol abuse." Cucchiara instructed students to act on their suspicions, saying that workers should "report anybody that you suspect may be under the influence so that a proper investigation can be carried out. Don’t hesitate. If you’re wrong, the worst case scenario is the individual is apologized to. But go with that gut feeling.” 

Dan Fleming of EllisDon also touched on this topic, mentioning a construction site for the Crosstown LRT that was temporarily shut down last month after a local reported witnessing crews smoking marijuana on a break. EllisDon sent the entire work crew home and suspended operations on the site to conduct an investigation. Fleming also spoke about how construction companies are already adapting to the new legalization legislation, educating workers on what it means to be "fit for duty" on a potentially dangerous work site. In fact, every member of the panel spoke on the importance of keeping a job site substance-free, including the various company policies at play used to deal with instances of worker substance abuse.

Another student asked the panel a related question, about how to get help for a colleague with substance abuse issues without costing them their job. Panel members offered various solutions including using your own influence as a co-worker/friend to address the issue, or referring them to a union-managed assistance program.

You can learn more about Carpenters Local 27 by visiting their website. In the meantime, let us know what you think in the comments section provided below.