(Photo above: Suzanne Johnson, EM&S Coordinator speaks about workplace safety)
On February 4, 2015, over 100 students at Kitchener’s Eastwood Secondary were invited to a workplace safety presentation. Hosted by mysafework.com’s, Rob Ellis and Jessica DiSabatino, the morning featured an interview with Elizabeth Witmer, chair of the WSIB Ontario. This was followed by a student panel Q&A seminar on workplace safety. Students were given the opportunity to ask business leaders about safety policies and training. Here is an excerpt of that interaction…
Rob Ellis interviews students; asking about their work safety experiences
Elizabeth Witmer: First of all, I’m really thrilled to be here today. It’s good to be back at Eastwood. It was my first cabinet position in 1985 as the Minister of Labour that I had a visit from Paul Kells’ family. He came with his wife and daughter to tell me that their son, Sean, had died in a workplace accident. Sean worked part time, and it was his third day on the job. He was like many students, he got a job he was excited about, but little did he know that three days into that job, he would do something unsafe, without having the proper training and would be killed.
Elizabeth Witmer, chair of the WSIB Ontario brings her support to the focus on work place safety. Seen here with Rob Ellis – keynote speaker from mysafework.com
They came to meet with me because as Minister of Labour, they wanted our government and our ministry to do everything we could to raise awareness and educate young people about the risks on a job, whether it’s part time of full time. There are associated risks and you need to be trained properly so you are aware of them, knowing you can say no when you’re asked to do something dangerous. Now, why did that visit have the impact it had on me? Well first of all it would have had an impact regardless, but I have a son, Scott, who lives here in the city of Waterloo. My son was the same age as Sean. I went home that night and thought; that could have been my son. It could have been anybody’s son – it could have been you. I made a decision that as Minister of Labour I would do whatever I could to help raise awareness. I started the Young Workers Awareness Program, working with others in the field to make sure you are aware of the facts; you need to ensure you get the right training and that workplaces are safe.
Jessica DiSabatino from mysafework.com introduces the students to Rob Ellis
Jessica DiSabatino, mysafework.com: The Ontario government has done a lot to make our province a safer place to work. As young workers who are not making millions and adding to the GDP, does the Ontario government really care about young workers?
Elizabeth Witmer: Yes, Jessica. I can assure you, the Ontario government does care. As chair of the WSIB, we care. Our mandate is to make the workplaces safe and healthy. We are doing a lot but we don’t do it alone. We work with Jessica, we work with her father Rob, and you’re going to hear about their story too. We work with employers, we work with other associations, other levels of governments, we do what we can to make sure that the workplaces in the province of Ontario are safe. That’s why I’m thrilled to have so many champions here, because none of this would happen if we didn’t all work together. And I hope that when you leave here today, you will seriously consider your own workplace and what the risks may be and always, always make sure that you are well educated about what it is that you are doing. I encourage you to always put health and safety first when you enter that workplace. Before I leave, I want to thank Jessica and Rob. They have been taking these assemblies across the province of Ontario. They have impacted lives and saved lives and I appreciate them, because it’s people like them that are going to make sure that people like you understand the need for healthy and safe workplaces.
Jessica: That makes the province a better place to live and work.
Rob Ellis, President, mysafework.com: Why did you come here today? You’re the Chief Executive Officer for Kitchener Wilmot, but these are seventeen, eighteen year olds. Do they actually need the knowledge and experience that you have?
Jerry Van Ooteghem, Kitchener Wilmont Hydro addresses the students at Eastwood Secondary
Jerry Van Ooteghem, Kitchener Wilmot Hydro: Well, I hope they learn more over their careers than I have! I’m sure they will do a better job than myself. You know for much the same reason as Ms. Whitmer said, I have four children and I’ve been a parent that’s gone through this situation. I’ve been involved with health and safety my whole life and I encourage you to be involved with health and safety at your job too.
For me, much like Ms. Whitmer, there was a very personal experience, which really cemented my commitment to health and safety. I had a son that aspired to be a future architect when he was in high school. In grade twelve, while building his portfolio, he wanted some work experience that could help his resume to apply for colleges and university. He thought, if he could get some construction experience that it would be a really wonderful addition to his resume. So he applied for some jobs and he was successful in getting a construction job. He was so excited about that, he went out and got himself safety boots, and was really looking forward to his first day at work. That evening when he came home, we sat around the dinner table and talked about how his first day was. He said the job he had was doing maintenance work on some balconies on a walk up apartment building in Mississauga. He said he went down in a van but they didn’t have enough seats, so he got to ride in the back on an upside down five gallon pail to the job. I’m thinking, oh boy, this is not starting off very well.
They get there and they only have access to these balconies from the outside. They were not going through all of the tenants units, so they were to use a ladder. But, it was too short to reach to the third level of balcony. He climbed as high as he could and then he had to pull himself up onto the railing to get to the balcony he was working on. That pretty much cemented it for me. That was his first day at work and so right then and there I decided no, he wasn’t going back. He was obviously disappointed, but knew it was the right call. For us, we were lucky, he wasn’t injured on his first day – but he could have been a statistic; either killed or disabled as a result of a fall. For me, it’s very personal. For our company, safety is a core value. We have dangerous jobs at our workplace and so we’ve put a lot of value, time and effort into training employees as soon as they start.
Rob: If you’re ever looking for a career, Kitchener Wilmot is a place I would recommend any Canadian apply to. You’re a visible Canadian leader making a difference, Jerry, thank you so much.
Rob’s Story about his son Dave
I’m not a speaker, I’m just an ordinary dad who needs your help. I have to go through this journey in my mind and I need you to come along…
I’ve just got a call from my wife and she said, “Rob you need to get over to the hospital really quick, our eighteen year old son Dave has been in a really bad accident.” I want each and every one of you right now to travel with me in your own mind. Before you open that car door I want you to think of somebody that you love. Put that person into your heart and into your mind right now and let’s get into the car together, we’ll travel over to the hospital, not far from the high school. Drive into the parking lot and there’s a doctor and nurses waiting for you at the front door. You get out of the car and you shake the doctor’s hand and the doctor says “Come with me. I want to take you down to where your loved one is”. You look inside that room and there is your loved one on that bed. My son Dave, I can see him again. He’s on the bed, his blood is on the floor, it’s on the walls, it’s everywhere and there’s panic in the room. The doctor looks up at you and says “I’m really, really sorry. I don’t think your loved one can make the helicopter flight to Sunnybrook Hospital”, the next biggest hospital in Toronto. You look back at the doctor and say “He’ll make it. He’ll make it.” Six days later when you’re at the hospital and you’ve gone through six days of aggravation, not alone but with Canadians from all over the place supporting you and your loved one. At the end of the sixth day, the doctor comes up to you and says, “I’m really, really sorry. Your loved one is not going to make it.”
For me as a dad, I had to go back and talk to my wife and kids and say to them, “I’m sorry, Dave can’t ever come home.” I had a little guy at that time. His name is Caleb., He looked up at and said “Dad, please just go get Dave and let’s get out of this hospital.” You never, ever, ever forget the tears rolling down his face while he is pleading for me to go and get Dave and just go home. He gave me a big bear hug with tears just rolling down his face and I had to say “No. He’ll never come home again.” I don’t know how, we ever made it home that night, but I’m here today because Dave would have wanted me, to go out and talk to you, his friends. Together we can learn, and together we can make Canada a better place.
Dave, you see, was exactly like you. He just wanted to make a few bucks at a part time job after he had finished school. He wanted to help Mom and Dad out because he was going to go to college or university, and that was a good thing. He went off to the job the first day, came home and I asked him how it went. I was an old school thinker, I didn’t want to embarrass my son so I just asked him two questions; how did it go and how much money are you going to make. I needed to ask him a lot more questions but I didn’t.
Dave went to work, the second day on the job, where he was left alone on a bakery floor, working on the largest piece of industrial equipment they had. It was a big industrial mixer, and his job was to clean it out. What Dave didn’t know, was that eighteen months prior, the government had come in and inspected the place, found out there were no guards and no lockouts on the machine. The owners of the company were told to get the machine fixed, and they did not. They also didn’t tell Dave it needed repair; they just put him to work on a machine that had no safety equipment at all. Dave was like most young Canadians; he wasn’t going to ask any questions at all, he was just going to put his head down, work hard, and earn minimum wage. He was just there to please the boss. And somehow, some way, a power surge came through in that mixer and my son Dave got pulled into its blades. You cannot believe the devastation the blades caused him. I wish I had been there and not him. The government investigated the next day and found the owners of the company to be guilty of negligence; forty-seven counts against them. Bottom line – they did not respect an eighteen-year-old young man. You can ask me what happened to Dave’s supervisor… they were back in business the following day, after they got the safety equipment on the mixer.
I’m here today to tell you that we need to make some changes. I just explained there was a hundred and twenty five thousand young people injured. We need to bring that number down to zero and we are making progress. In the last ten years the numbers have dropped by thirty percent, but not fast enough for me. Not fast enough for you. I want the number to be zero, no accidents what-so-ever. During the interview process, when that boss lifts his or her head and asks if you have any questions, I want you to ask, “do you have OT; orientation, training and can I ask any question when I have the job?”
Orientation and training are two things all great companies offer. Recently, the government has made it mandatory for all companies, big and small to have proper orientation and training. But are we there yet? No, we’re not. I need your help to ask the right questions and raise the bar. I need your help to drive the number down to zero.
Now you’re from Ball Construction, you’re a female in the construction industry, and you do an amazing job. How does a seventeen year old who comes in with a new set of eyes and sees something on the job that she wants to report. How do you go about reporting something that you feel a little bit uncomfortable about?
Elizabeth Witmer (second from left) meets and greets the panel of business professionals presenting and supporting safe work habits at Eastwood Secondary in Kitchener
Suzanne Johnson, EM&S Coordinator: We’ve got two ways to go about that. If you’ve got a supervisor you feel you can talk to, you may get to a resolution. If not, you can always go on the MOL (Ministry of Labour) website. There’s an over the phone hotline that they have and it’s completely anonymous. Tell them exactly what’s going on and they will go in for a visit. They will investigate your claim without disclosing to upper management that you contacted them, it is completely private.
Jason Ball, President of Ball Construction: That is an expert telling you how to do it. Should they really report it? I mean come on, we don’t need to report everything do we? Do we need to report any incidents?
Absolutely! It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that everything happening is done safely. Sometimes senior management might not know what people are instructing entry-level employees to do so communication is key. It is in everyone’s interest to report everything. In some cases you might report something, only to be advised that it is acceptable and within the law, but everyone has a role to play.
Rob: And that’s coming from the boss at Ball Construction. Thanks, Jason!