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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 4, January/February 2007

Health and safety
Boards neglecting responsibilities

by Mark Keelan

What would happen if a teacher decided to completely ignore Section 17(1) of the School Act or Section 4 of the School Regulation? Section 17(1) of the act states: "A teacher’s responsibilities include designing, supervising and assessing educational programs and instructing, assessing, and evaluating individual students and groups of students." The School Regulation elaborates on the act. How long would it take for the teacher to find herself in serious trouble if she decided not to instruct and evaluate individual students or groups of students or not to supervise educational programs? The School Act and the School Regulation are the law of the province and for a teacher to ignore the law would be to invite significant repercussions.

Why is it, then, that school district employers choose to ignore the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (OH&SR)? Section 115(2)(e) of the act requires the employer to "provide to the employer’s workers the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure the health and safety of those workers in carrying out their work and to ensure the health and safety of other workers at the workplace." Shouldn’t ignoring health and safety laws bring about the same degree of consequence as does ignoring school laws?

Like the School Act and its Regulation, the OH&SR elaborates on the Workers Compensation Act. Employers have many obligations, including the obligation to train their workers. It is time for them to be made to take those obligations seriously.

Part 3 of the OH&SR requires all employers to have a health and safety program. The program must include a statement of the employer’s aims and the responsibilities of the employer, supervisors, and workers. Most teachers have never seen such a statement. Ask for it! You have a right to know what is expected of you and of others in your workplace. The program must also include "provision by the employer for the instruction and supervision of workers in the safe performance of their work." Few teachers have ever received instruction in the safe performance of their work but all have the right to demand it.

Many BCTF members regularly find themselves working alone which, for a variety of reasons, puts them at risk of a disabling injury. OH&SR Section 4.22 states that workers who work alone must be trained in the written procedure for checking on the worker’s well-being. The procedure must be reviewed annually.

One of the most common causes of injuries to BCTF members is as a result of violence. Section 4.30 of the OH&SR provides excellent protections for members, but often the provisions of the section are ignored. According to Section 4.30, workers are entitled to be informed if they may be exposed to the risk of violence, to know the history of a person’s violent behaviour, and to receive instruction in how to recognize, respond to, and report on violence. Workers are also entitled to be instructed in the procedures that have been developed to eliminate or minimize the risk of violence. Obviously, such procedures have to have been developed if workers are to be instructed in how to follow them.

OH&SR Section 4.51 states that workers who may be exposed to the risk of a musculoskeletal injury (MSI) are educated in "risk identification related to the work, including the recognition of early signs and symptoms of MSIs and their potential health effects." Employers are also required to train workers in the use of measures that are intended to control the risk of developing MSIs.

Many members are required to use hazardous materials in the course of their work. The OH&SR contains regulations related to the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). One of the WHMIS regulations is that the employer must provide instruction in the procedures for the safe use, handling, storage, and disposal of controlled substances. There must also be instruction in emergency procedures related to the controlled substances. In addition, employers must ensure that workers who are required to use emergency eyewash or shower facilities are instructed in their location and proper use.

There are other areas of the OH&SR that require employers to provide instruction and training to workers. The point is that employers are required to ensure that workers get a considerable amount of health and safety training. For the most part, the training is not happening.

Few principals or superintendents would let teachers off the hook if teachers decided to ignore the School Act and the School Regulation. BCTF members need to keep employers "on the hook" when it comes to the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. Employers have many obligations; training workers is one of them. Assert the rights that are designed to ensure that you work in a healthy and safe environment.

Mark Keelan is the BCTF’s health and safety officer for prevention.

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