About 200 members, more than 60 per cent of them women, lined up at the mikes to talk about serious health and safety issues at Tuesday night’s forum.
Occupational health and safety expert, Dr. Linda Murray, kicked off the discussion by talking about her early medical training. Murray said that in her four years of U.S. med school, only one professor spoke about health and safety.
“He said, ‘the experts about health and safety issues in the workplace are the workers,’
said Murray. “Doctors don’t know shit about health and safety. That’s why no one ever talks about it.”
Murray told the delegates, the majority of them health and safety reps for their locals, “go in and ask members: ‘What do you do? What happens on your shift?’” She said workers know what’s making them sick.
Murray spoke briefly then turned the floor over to delegates to bring up issues and share success stories. More than three dozen speakers went to the mikes. For more than an hour and a half, they spoke about urgent issues in their health care, child care, airline, municipal and library workplaces. Issues ranged from asbestos exposure from damaged pipe elbows in boiler and fan rooms and the smell of dead rats in libraries to the workload epidemic that is affecting every sector.
An airlines member spoke about working in a “tube at 35,000 feet” and members who go for 12 hours without a meal because they don’t have time to eat.
“If we’re too tired to get you out of that airplane, then you are not going to get out,” said France Pelletier of CUPE 4091, one of the nominees for this year’s health and safety award.
Two speakers talked about forcing the employer to be accountable and the need to be persistent in using legislation to get action. Another spoke about the importance of training and how they “ended up having the entire cleaning product line changed on Vancouver Island” after learning how to use hazardous materials data sheets.