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Front-line worker arms himself to fight for safety

By Terry Inigo-Jones, Communications Staff

Jan 24, 2023

More union members needed to run for joint workplace safety committees

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Knowledge is power for AUPE member Williams Ahilleh, who has equipped himself well to make his workplace safer.

When he started as a surgical processor at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, he soon realized that workplace safety was an issue.

AUPE member Williams Ahilleh
AUPE member Williams Ahilleh

“I started seeing the importance of occupational health and safety at my workplace where the workload was so much on all of us,” says Ahilleh. “And being part of the union, I started bringing up the issues to my colleagues and also bringing up issues to the union, that the workload is so much.”

Ahilleh didn’t stop there. He realized that workers can and should play an active role in workplace safety, rather than leaving it to employers to ensure safe working conditions.

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While attending AUPE’s annual Labour School in Jasper in 2019, he found out about an Occupational Health and Safety Certificate that he could earn at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension and signed up for that.

Union members can also take AUPE courses in workplace safety. Completing the union’s various OHS courses gives you credits that can be transferred to earning the university certificate.

The university course is one of the most advanced in Canada. To help offset costs, AUPE members are eligible for part-time and full-time bursaries which can be used while taking the university course. You can find out more about the course and bursaries here and here.

Ahilleh was AUPE’s first member to complete the university OHS certificate and receive full credit for his AUPE training. That’s an achievement worth celebrating! And he took what he has learned and uses that expertise at his work site.

“I had been involved on the joint health-and-safety committee at my workplace shortly before I got admitted [to the University of Alberta’s program]. I was always attending meetings and inspections,” he says.

“And after I graduated, I continued doing inspections and meetings. I can say the success is we are able to identify a lot of hazards, correct them immediately, and were able to meet with other union members on the floor, hear from them the challenges they are facing. And also hear from them the problems they're having in regard to workplace health and safety.”

What he learned about safety, about workplace hazards and the laws that govern workplace safety, have been useful.

It’s now easier to address any problems he encounters, to make inspections effective and to take action when it’s needed.

“The members were very satisfied and there have been improvements, mostly in my in my area at the U of A hospital. There has been success in the OHS committee and inspections,” he says.

Ahilleh says the education he has acquired lets him see issues in more depth, allows him to find solutions and to push for those solutions without being afraid of retaliation from the employer.

He stresses the importance of front-line workers being active in joint workplace health-and-safety committees. If workers don’t join these committees, they will have no voice about workplace safety.

“So, it’s important that all of us step up … we need more members to volunteer to step in and be part of workplace OHS committees.”

Ahilleh encourages union members to complete these courses and to run for election to joint workplace safety committees.

“Most people don't know that it's their right to speak up. So, they keep quiet and they keep burning out because of workload.”

He says he’d love to see more workers get involved with the union and with the joint workplace safety committees. Elections are being held now. You can find out more here.

He’d also like to see more take advantage of the safety courses.

“The courses are flexible. You can take courses online, you can take weekends, or you can choose dates that you want. You can extend the program up to five years or more, so you can graduate. So, it's something that you can take and finish at your convenience.”

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