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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 1, September 2004

Health & Safety
Prevention is the name of the game

by Maureen L. MacDonald

The goal is prevention
The goal of the BCTF’s Health and Safety Program is prevention of workplace-caused illness and injury. That is the stated goal of school boards’ health and safety programs, too. Employees and employers travelling down the same path? Mm hmm. Can you feel the unity of purpose? If you can, please share how it works in your local. If you can’t, you are not alone. Help is available in the form of the Workers Compensation Act, the Workers’ Compensation Board Occupational Health & Safety Regulation, the BCTF Occupational Health & Safety Manual, the many workshops in the BCTF Health and Safety Training Program, your local health and safety rep, your local president, and BCTF staff members dedicated to prevention.

Know your rights

Employees have four rights in the law:

  1. The right to know about dangers in the workplace.
  2. The right to participate in workplace health and safety activities through the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee or worker representative.
  3. The right to refuse unsafe work.
  4. The right to no discrimination for participating in OH&S activities.

Know your employer’s duties
All employers in B.C. have general duties stated in the Workers Compensation Act, Section 115. This is my favourite: "Every employer must ensure the health and safety of all workers working for that employer." Other parts that make the act interesting reading include: "An employer must remedy any workplace conditions that are hazardous to the health and safety of the employers’ workers." "An employer must ensure that the employer’s workers are made aware of all the known or reasonably foreseeable health and safety hazards to which they are likely to be exposed." "An employer must make a copy of this act and the regulations readily available for review by the employer’s workers and, at each workplace where workers of the employer are regularly employed, post and keep posted a notice advising where a copy is available for review."

(In old schools, look for the four WCB Blue Books that were provided free to all worksites. Some of the regulations are outdated, but the act hasn’t changed. It is in Book 1. In brand new schools just opening this month, you may have to ask your principal to order a copy of the Workers Compensation Act ($16.50) and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation ($65) from Crown Publications Inc. An example of free enterprise, but that’s another story.)

Workers have duties, too
Section 116 of the Workers Compensation Act says "Every worker must take reasonable care to protect the worker’s health and safety and the health and safety of other persons who may be affected by the worker’s acts or omissions at work." (Other persons means just what it says. It includes students.) It further states: "A worker must report to the supervisor or employer any contravention of this Part, the regulation or an applicable order of which the worker is aware, and the absence of or defect in any protective equipment, device or clothing, or the existence of any other hazard that the worker considers is likely to endanger the worker or any other persons."

Reporting is not the same as complaining. Report in writing. Ask your worksite Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee or workers’ representative for assistance.

Take advantage of training
The second annual training for local health and safety reps, on August 24 at the BCTF Summer Conference, was a big success. Dozens of locals sent reps to get health and safety facts and skills and to learn where to find more.

Something new
The BCTF Health and Safety Workshop for Beginning Teachers is our newest workshop. Local health and safety reps at the summer conference received a copy of the beginning teachers workshop containing facilitators’ notes, overheads, and materials for participants’ kits in order that they may give the workshop in the local. Beginning teachers are not the only ones who could learn from attending! If your local presents the workshop at a local general meeting or other event, plan to attend.

Is there more?
We’ve only just begun to list the goodies.

The BCTF offers the following tripartite workshops (for teachers’ reps, support staff union reps, and employers’ reps, usually principals), which meet the educational-leave requirements of Section 135 of the act.

  1. BCTF/WorkSafe Basic Committee Training (five modules)
    1. Occupational Health and Safety Program
    2. Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees/Worker Representatives
    3. Safety Inspections
    4. Incident Investigations and Reports
    5. Refusal of Unsafe Work
  2. Violence Protection and Prevention
  3. Indoor Air Quality.
  4. Ergonomics in the Classroom
  5. School Construction/ Renovation

Still more
Just for teachers, School Union Rep Training (SURT) workshops are available four days per year in each local. One of those days can be used for training school health and safety reps. Current workshops are:

  1. General health and safety
  2. Indoor air quality (IAQ): How to breathe easier
  3. Violence protection: Keeping teachers safe
  4. The role of the union health and safety rep on-site.

Be vocal in your local
That’s one of my favourite sayings. Don’t be backward about stepping forward. Expect, nay, demand, that health and safety be a priority for your elected officers and for all members. Insist on the same from your trustees. Remember the squeaky wheel? Silence is consent, so make hazards known in order to prevent illness and injury whenever possible.

Three things to do this week
Immediately report to your principal, your engineer-custodian, and your worksite joint occupational health and safety committee rep all school-opening problems such as dust, musty smells, off-gassing from new carpets, poor ventilation, renovation hazards, and the need to move furniture and boxes. Document your concerns.

Make health and safety issues a regular item on your staff or staff committee meeting agenda.

Wash your hands. Often. (You knew I’d say that, didn’t you?)

The BCTF Health and Safety Program runs mainly on the volunteer efforts of teachers like you. Here’s a big thank you to the nine members of the Health and Safety Advisory Committee and the 10 health and safety trainers who devote much time and talent to providing advice and workshops. Show your thanks by helping to make the health and safety program at your school work to everyone’s benefit.

To put your name on the BCTF occupational health and safety e-mail list, please e-mail your request to Whitney Burgess, wburgess@bctf.ca.

Maureen MacDonald is the prevention officer in the BCTF Health and Safety Department.

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