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Teach our children well

March 9, 2022

Tina Vincent Gagnon, Smelter Emergencies Systems Group in Sudbury, ON, has taught countless number of high school students about workplace safety. Tina is a longtime volunteer with the United Steelworkers (USW Local 6500) Young & New Workers Awareness Program. Photo: Tina Vincent Gagnon

For young workers on an industrial site, not knowing about safety hazards can be deadly. For example, did you know: According to the Workers Safety Insurance Board (WSIB), the first three months on a job site are the most hazardous. 

It is for this reason, and so many more, that Tina Vincent Gagnon, Smelter Emergencies Systems Group in Sudbury, and a 20-year Vale veteran, is so passionate about the United Steelworkers (USW Local 6500) Young & New Workers Awareness Program, which falls under the Health & Safety Committee, a joint effort by the Union USW Local 6500 and Vale. The Young & New Workers Awareness Program began in 1996. 

It’s personal

Tina’s passion for safety is rooted in personal experience. “Before I started with Vale,” Tina said, “I worked at a foundry with a whole slew of Health & Safety issues such as exposure to chemicals. The whole experience was awful. So, when I was asked to get involved with the Vale-USW Health & Safety Committee shortly after I started with the company, I saw it as an opportunity to affect change, to ensure people are treated fairly, to work safely and do things right.”

Tina joined the USW Young & New Workers Awareness program team in 2003 and travelled around northeastern Ontario to give the Young & New Workers Awareness presentation to high schools, colleges as well as Vale summer and co-op students. 

She explained: “Before the program, there was nothing like it in schools. No one knew anything about Health & Safety. The union identified this need—they knew that some kids were getting hurt and even killed in the workplace. Some were our employees’ and our members’ kids. 

Reality, check! 

The presentation begins with an overview of unions: what they are, what they do, why they are important, and then it moves into real-life workplace injuries and fatalities, and sobering statistics from WSIB.  

“We talk about young workers who were injured or died in a workplace accident,” said Tina, adding, “It’s meant to be a reality check. Not to scare.” 

Statistics include: The highest cause of injury to young workers is slips and falls and being struck by objects or equipment. Examples of serious injuries that young workers sustain include amputations, concussions, burns, lacerations and more. 

“We explain that they have the right to know about workplace Health & Safety hazards like toxic and hazardous substances in the workplace, and the right to refuse work if it feels unsafe.”

“We tell them, ‘If it feels wrong, don’t do it.’” Many students leave our presentations with more confidence and knowledge knowing there are laws that protect them, and it’s the right to use them.” 

Goal: zero

Fortunately, since Tina started doing these presentations, the number of fatalities and injuries to young workers in the workplace has gone down in Ontario:

  • From 2000 to 2004: 60 young workers were killed and 250,783 were injured. 
  • From 2015 to 2019: 21 young workers killed and 89,694 were injured.

“Our goal and wish are to see zero killed and zero injured,” said Tina. “If I can help save one person it’s so worth it. This work is very rewarding for me, and for my team of qualified instructors. which includes Chris Heins, JP Mrochek and Eric Delparte. It’s a great team!” 

That said, the team has been working together for many years and now and Tina indicated that they are looking to expand and recruit new instructors. It’s a wonderful opportunity to give back, and Tina will be doing the training. 

Interested to find out more? Email Tina at Tina.Vincent@vale.com

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