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Its time to jump-start health and safety committees, ensuring theyre part of the solution, not part of the problem.

To tackle this issue, CUPE activists are gathering in Montreal at the 8th National Health and Safety Conference and theyre launching a new Back to Basics initiative.

In a perfect world, joint health and safety committees would continually push health and safety issues to the front of workers and employers minds, putting forward solutions and improving workers health. But we all know the world isnt perfect.

Despite legislation calling for equal worker representation and voice on health and safety committees and committees mandate to address and solve health and safety problems this isnt how it always works. Too often health and safety committees have become complacent or too warm and fuzzy between workers and employers or both.

CUPEs National Health and Safety Committee has identified committees as one area in need of a boost. Its action plan, adopted at the 1997 CUPE national convention, states: Members on joint occupational health and safety committees have become much less aggressive in pursuing their basic rights. In some cases, worker representatives have grown distant from their local union and are not representing members best interests.

With a view to breathing new life into health and safety committees, CUPE is launching a Back to Basics initiative. The plan is to ensure committee members are fully aware of their responsibilities as advocates for members rights, providing the training they need to be confident working for substantive improvements on health and safety in CUPE workplaces.

Help is available

Interested locals should contact the Health and Safety Branch in Ottawa or the health and safety representative in their region for more details.

And they can get the ball rolling by assessing how committees are working in their workplaces. The membership could be surveyed to get their sense of the committees effectiveness. If it is shown the committee is stuck in a rut or not working in the best interests of the membership, then its time to step in and make changes.

Here is a quick checklist of tips for successful committees:

  • make sure there is equal representation between workers and the employer

  • make sure issues dont drop off the table

  • if an issue is going nowhere, call in an inspector and let the local union executive know

  • stay in touch with members health and safety priorities

  • contact CUPE when you need help.

Health and safety committees can be tools for change in CUPE workplaces. Dont be lulled into a false sense of security by employers assurances that health and safety concerns are being taken care of.

Every year CUPE members are killed, made sick and injured on the job. Until this changes, committees have work to do and a responsibility to protect our members lives.

Matthew Firth