Staying safe in the workplace: New OH&S course for community health

After centuries of advocacy and activism, workers have strong rights that allow them to remain healthy and safe in the workplace. But not everyone knows their rights, and many workers unknowingly perform dangerous or unsafe work.

This is particularly true of community health workers whose job site is the client’s private home. “Our care aides and community health workers face innumerable hazards in the home that their colleagues working in hospitals and facilities don’t,” explained union representative Fred Scott. “Vicious pets, verbal abuse, physical assault and sexual harassment – the home can be a dangerous work environment.”

But while community health workers have an overall injury rate that is double the provincial average, many don’t know their rights when it comes to health and safety on the job. “Our community health and social services members are particularly vulnerable to occupational health and safety incidents, especially with no witnesses and no onsite support from management. But they don’t always know how to stay safe.”

That’s why UFCW 1518 developed a one-day course designed specifically for health care members working in the community. Launched last November on Vancouver Island, Health and Safety Essentials reflects recent changes to British Columbia’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. “This course focuses on giving members resources to be strong advocates of health and safety,” commented Scott, also one of UFCW 1518’s health and safety educators. “We want workers to be more aware of their rights, the history of these rights and how to enforce them. Specifically, we teach workers about their right to know, their right to participate, their right to refuse unsafe work and their right to know discrimination,” he added.

“The overall consensus was that this class was a hit,” said union representative Ashley Campbell. “It was basic enough in that it wasn’t overwhelming and yet it was clear and factual so that members left understanding what their rights and roles are when performing their jobs, and when advocating for other members.”

Health and Safety Essentials was more than just informative for home support worker Brenda Somerville. “Union courses give you a different perspective than going to your employer’s health and safety presentations,” she said. “It was a good opportunity to exchange ideas and share information with other home support workers. And it was also empowering.”

Health and Safety Essentials is open to stewards as well as Joint Occupational Health & Safety representatives. Keep your eye on the Events Calendar for 2018 course dates.