September 2010

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Nova Scotia Local and Utility Sign Safety Charter

In early July, newspapers, radio and TV stations across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island reported that IBEW Local 1928's Business Manager Michael MacDonald and Nova Scotia Power CEO Rob Bennett had reinforced their commitment to health and safety by signing a pact known as the CEO Health and Leadership Charter.

It was the first time a union and company jointly endorsed the pledge, signed by 250 organizations across Canada. While the symbolic signing promoted making safety the first priority in the workplace, NSP and Local 1928 accompanied their pledge with an active public awareness campaign warning against the dangers of electrical lines.

An Atlantic-TV news report that included interviews with MacDonald and an NSP spokesman opened by showing the aftermath of a 2005 accident where two men who were not employees of NSP in Sydney, Nova Scotia, were electrocuted when their bucket truck came in contact with overhead lines. It emphasized the need for residents to keep a 20-foot distance from power lines when pruning trees or performing other home projects.

MacDonald says that the charter signing and the awareness campaign follow a path of productive relations between Nova Scotia Power and Local 1928, which represents 850 workers including mechanics, linemen, steam plant operators, electricians, technicians, utility workers and others.

"Labor and management have parked their hats outside the door and partnered on health and safety for many years," says MacDonald.

A press release from NSP reported that the company had achieved a million person-hours of work without a lost time injury in some areas of the province.

"Safety is non-negotiable in the utility industry. You can't compromise or cut corners in any way in our industry," said NSP CEO Rob Bennett. MacDonald says that he and Bennett promote safety by giving credit to exemplary workers out in the field.

Local 1928 members sit on numerous joint safety committees with NSP managers and the local union recognizes IBEW members with awards for safety excellence. Because Local 1928 has developed a good overall relationship with NSP, says MacDonald, "There is more time to focus on the job and task at hand rather than other issues between us."

Union and management efforts on safety were praised in a luncheon where Nova Scotia Minister for Labour and Workplace Development Marilyn More announced that Workers' Compensation Board claims between 2004 and 2008 had dropped 7 percent.

In late July, the Cape Breton Post published an ad placed by the Nova Scotia Department of Labour showing MacDonald and Bennett signing the safety charter.

The ad says, "NSP and the IBEW understand the value of partnership in occupational health and safety, and they're showing Nova Scotia's employers and employees how to do it right." More, pictured in the ad behind Bennett and MacDonald, writes, "I challenge employers and workers to find three ways to cooperate on workplace safety, and to implement these plans before the Thanksgiving holiday."

Utility ‘Safety Village' Educates,
Entertains Schoolchildren

Getting youngsters interested in safety can be a lot like persuading them to eat their vegetables. That's why Dave Morris and Chris Evans employ a novel approach: wowing elementary students with a massive replica of a city, including miniature electric cars that students can drive and life-like models of power lines and substations.

The Toronto Local 636 linemen work with a coalition of organizations that takes a "portable safety village" from school to school, essentially holding residence in each elementary gymnasium for a full week of fun and engaging lessons. The 40- by 50-foot wide village features three-dimensional replicas of a school, a police station, a fire station and other familiar landmarks.

"It's been a great tool to get kids interested in safety," Morris said. "The parents, teachers, administrators and students all love it."

Each of the Orillia Power employees presentations feature a short video depicting boys and girls who learn to navigate away from potentially dangerous situations involving electricity. Students also get to try on safety equipment like insulating gloves and hardhats, and they watch an eye-popping demonstration of what can happen if a child's kite veers too close to a power line.

In the exercise, the instructor moves a replica kite into an energized line. The children usually emit a collective "Whoa!" when the cable shoots a small spark into the air.

"We want to be realistic about potential electrical dangers in their community," Evans said. "When they see the kite flying into the power lines and hear the crackle of electricity, their eyes get as large as saucers. It's a big hit, and they walk away with helpful information."

Younger students also get the chance to sit behind the wheel of miniature electric cars and drive them on roads through the city—with an emphasis on obeying traffic signs and taking note of potential hazards.

Other organizations and companies that have teamed up on the initiative include local and provincial utilities, police and fire departments. Evans and Morris work in schools on Mondays, and representatives from the other groups round out the week-long lessons.

"This never would have been possible without the local groups coming together for a common cause," Morris said. "Our company has been extremely supportive as well in encouraging us to do this."

The group hit 15 schools in the area last academic year and anticipates the program's future success.

Toronto Local 636 members Chris Evans, left, and Dave Morris volunteer their time at area elementary schools to teach students about electrical safety.

Dave Morris of Toronto Local 636, right, helps a youngster operate a miniature car to learn about traffic signals and signs.

Calif. Local Awards Scholarships to Teens

Kurt Bernardin, left, Sarah Schrader and Chance Erwin—all children of San Bernardino, Calif., Local 543 members—were recently awarded $500 each in scholarship money after winning the local's essay contest on why consumers should buy American, union-made goods.

Read the full story.

Students Kurt Bernardin, left, Sarah Schrader and Chance Erwin won San Bernardino, Calif., Local 543's essay contest on why people should buy union-made American products.