Have there been a series of injuries at your workplace? Do you need help investigating the root causes of these injuries? If an ammonia leak occurred in your plant, would you know what precautions your employer should take or what the union’s role is?
Stewards have many responsibilities, but none as important as promoting the safety and health of fellow workers. Stewards are encouraged to build on their safety skills and knowledge by taking advantage of trainings available through the UFCW International’s Occupational Safety and Health Office.
Safety and Health Office staff members develop personalized trainings to address the specific needs of stewards and local unions. They are at no cost to members or local unions because they are funded through a grant from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Trainings take place inside plants, at local union halls, or at nearby facilities. The workshops accommodate any size group, and can be facilitated in both English and Spanish. They are open to UFCW stewards, rank-and-file members, safety committee members, and local
union representatives. Depending on the needs and availability of participants, trainings can be held for any length of time from a few hours to a few days.
The Occupational Safety and Health Office offers workshop trainings on many topics, including:
- Identifying safety and health hazards in the workplace
- Workplace violence prevention
- Building a stronger union through safety and health
- Workers’ rights under OSHA
- Personal Protective Equipment
- Strengthening safety committees
Adolph Simms is a UFCW Local 325 member working at the Bay Valley Food Processing plant in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he has been a union safety representative for almost 10 years. Simms has participated in several UFCW safety and health trainings over the years and encourages others to take advantage of them.
“There are many opportunities for UFCW stewards and members to participate in safety trainings. If you think about it, the union’s basic mission is to advance the quality of life for workers. If there is a serious injury on the job, that clearly diminishes the quality of life for that worker and even the worker’s family.”
Simms says workers best know the hazards of their jobs, and it’s really in their interest to take an active role in safety and health on the job. “As workers, we have the most to lose from an unsafe work environment. Therefore we should have the largest role and the greatest impact in promoting workplace safety.”
Safety and health workshops can also be conducted at stewards’ conferences. In addition, the UFCW International hosts an annual Train-the-Trainer program where participants not only learn about safety issues, but also develop the skills needed to train their co-workers when they return to their worksite.
Simms has also participated in a Train-the-Trainer program and says the knowledge and skills he has learned from this workshop is helpful back on the job for many reasons. “Not only have I learned a lot and taken that knowledge back to the shop floor to help other workers,
but I’m also a part of contract negotiations to make sure our safety and health issues are addressed.”
If stewards don’t think they have time to participate in safety trainings, Simms argues it might make more sense to find a union member interested in making safety and health his or her only agenda. He says that stewards can be overwhelmed with many tasks, and it may work out better to have a union worker solely devoted to safety.