Thousands of Canadian high schoolers are learning about safety in the classroom – thanks to a program founded by a grieving father.
Rob Ellis formed an organization called My Safe Work after his 18-year-old son David was killed on his second day on the job at an industrial bakery. David’s death was not, unfortunately, an isolated incident; in Canada, young workers are three times more likely to be injured or killed in a workplace accident than their more experienced counterparts.
David’s story is the starting point at the My Safe Work forums that take place in high schools and are aimed at educating students about workplace safety—before they enter the job market. The group reaches more than 100,000 students each year across Canada.
The forums involve workers like Sam Mercel, an inside wireman and journeyman welder, going to high schools and talking to students about their own experiences with safety on the job.
“It was my first time participating in an event like that, and it’s nice to think you’re helping some young person learn to ask the questions that will keep them safe on their first job,” said Mercel. A member of the Hamilton, Ontario International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 105 RENEW/NextGen, Mercel said he receives safety training through his union.
“We’re lucky at the (IBEW). Safety is part of our training from day one, but young people in nonunion jobs or trades don’t often get the same education.”
The older workers, business leaders and other members of the local communities (called “safety champions” by program leaders) then participate in a question-and-answer session where they connect with students using examples from their own careers.
“The main session, and then a smaller setting afterwards in classrooms, was a great opportunity to talk to the kids about the IBEW and about how you shouldn’t feel afraid to say ‘no’ if an employer asks you to put yourself in a risky situation,” Mercel said. “University isn’t the right choice for every kid, so I was glad we got to introduce them to the trades and to a union where we prioritize safety,” he said.
First District strategic coordinator Kate Walsh says she’s been encouraging NextGen committees at locals across Canada to get involved with My Safe Work whenever the organization comes to schools in their communities. “These kids relate to people who are closer to their own age, so young IBEW members can have a real impact.”