H&S Conference Recap

The 2012 Prairies Health & Safety Conference was held November 17-18 in Edmonton. This year’s Conference focused on mental health in the workplace with particular attention to the impact and prevention of bullying.  

The 2012 Prairies Regional Health & Safety Conference opened with greetings from Elder  Gloria Laird who offered some words of wisdom and encouragement to delegates. “Take a breath and you’ll get the help you need,” she said. “We’re all energy. We’re energetic beings.”

Marianne Hladun, Regional Executive Vice-President for the PSAC Prairie Region, offered greetings. Hladun condemned the government for cutting health and safety positions and leaving workers to fend for themselves. “We will not drop the ball,” she said. “We will be there for our members.”

For Hladun, health and safety is a personal passion. She has been involved in various health and safety committees and initiatives throughout the years, inspired by many personal mentors. She explained the importance of health and safety, which isn’t just about reacting to workplace accidents.

“It’s about prevention, education, and awareness. It’s about committees and reps knowing their authority and exercising it before something happens.”

Keynote speaker Sjors Reijers, Manager for Program Promotions at Mental Health Commission of Canada presented on the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program. “The priorities are to decrease stigma, raise awareness and provide first aid for mental health incidents,” he explained.

MHFA is the help provided to a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. Just as physical first aid is administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained, MHFA is given until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved. Unfortunately, Only 25 per cent of workers believe supervisors manage mental health issues effectively. “Workplace health and safety and first aid includes physical and mental health. It has to.”

For the afternoon session, delegates participated in a series of workshops around the overall theme of mental health in the workplace, including Representing Members with Mental Illness, Balancing Life & Work, and Regulation 20: Violence Prevention in the Workplace. Together, members planned for continued discussions, education, networking to move health and safety work forward and to ensure workers return home every day safe and healthy.

Documents provided to delegates, discussed in workshops and presented throughout the conference are available for download on the PSAC website.

The first part of day two was dedicated to asbestos awareness and Howard Willems, a retired PSAC member and dedicated activist, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer of the lungs. Howard succumbed to the illness the week prior to the H&S Conference.

Denis St-Jean, PSAC National Health and Safety Officer, made a presentation on the history of asbestos and PSAC’s asbestos resolution. REVP Marianne Hladun followed this by giving a presentation on behalf of the Saskatchewan Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (SADAO). Bruce Campbell, PSAC Prairies Health and Safety Representative, closed this segment with an explaination of issues that were previously encountered in Winnipeg and how they were addressed.

After the break, delegates got into groups to discuss their expectations for the future and what tools they need to assist them in moving forward with their health and safety work.

To close, Hladun thanked the conference delegates for their honest and active participation, citing health and safety as one of the most important things we do as a union.

“On behalf of the Prairie Region, I make a committment to support health and safety activists, and I ask that you to share the information from this conference with others,” Hladun said. “It’s our responsibility to be a mentor to others in our workplace, but also to educate our employers. We must never forget that there are consequences to not being proactive.”