Starting them young

Sarah Holland
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 15/00) - Learning workplace safety should begin early, and the Workers' Compensation Board of the NWT and Nunavut is trying to ensure that happens.

The WCB has developed the Safety and the Young Worker program.

It is a career and technology studies (CTS) high school course, and every school in the Eastern and Western Arctic has been sent the instruction manual.

However, not every school offers the program because it is not mandatory.

But every high school student has to have five CTS credits to graduate from Grade 12, and the WCB's program counts as one of those credits.

Each teacher decides how the course -- which takes 24 hours to complete -- is taught and how the hours are divided.

According to David Clark, the WCB's director of prevention services, workers aged 15 to 24 sustained approximately 16 per cent of all time-loss occupational injuries in Canada between 1994-98.

"Young workers are especially at risk in the workplace. They often have little experience or training, and may not be aware of their rights in the workplace," said Clark.

"The WCB's Safety and the Young Worker program is an extremely effective tool for educating young workers and minimizing their risk of injury."

The most recent program guides went out in the fall of 1998, and when each student completes the course, they receive a certificate from the WCB.

The program won an award, in a communications competition, from the American Association of State Compensation and Insurance Funds. The 1998 award was in the open category.

The course covers a broad range of topics, including laws for both employers and employees, and the main types of health and safety hazards (chemical, physical, biological and ergonomic hazards). Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) alone covers four chapters.

Examples of other subjects include noise in the workplace; slips and falls; personal protective equipment and mechanical equipment electrical; fire and office safety; ergonomics; hypothermia and heat stress; and labour standards and fair practices.

Although the majority of students who take Safety and the Young Worker are headed towards careers in trades, the WCB tries to educate all students about workplace safety by continuing to promote the program.