For over 10 years, beginning in the late 1990s, the United Steelworkers (USW) in Canada ran a Young Worker Awareness Program. The union’s program targeted high school students across the country and aimed to teach them about workplace safety rights and responsibilities before they entered the workforce.
In 2010, USW expanded the scope of that program, based in part on a summary of research findings in the May 2009 Issue Briefing from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). The program was renamed the New Worker Awareness Program. This reflected the latest research from IWH showing that it’s not just young workers new to the labour market who are at higher risk of workplace injury. Any “new” worker – new to the job, new to Canada or working in a new company – is also at increased risk.
We broadened the program to include all new workers, based on findings confirmed in the IWH briefing, says Andy King, head of the union’s national Safety, Health and Environment Department.
The briefing supported what we were seeing and experiencing. It gave us a more comprehensive picture, and that’s the point of these briefings.
IWH introduced the Issue Briefing series in early 2009. It aims to summarize research findings from the Institute and elsewhere on topics that are of particular interest to policy-makers. The briefings also explore the policy implications of this research.
The second briefing in the series – ‘Newness’ and the risk of occupational injury – drew upon findings from a number of IWH scientists: President Cameron Mustard, Curtis Breslin, Peter Smith and Emile Tompa. It showed that workers new to the labour market, new to the job, new to Canada and in new firms are at greater risk of occupational injury.
New worker program launched at union's policy conference
The USW’s New Worker Awareness Program was launched at the union’s National Policy Conference in April 2010.
It’s the highest level of decision-making for the union, King says.
So getting recognition and approval at that level is big.
By the fall of that year, USW was bringing the program to regional conferences as the next step in rolling it out. It was also working on new instructional and promotional materials and looking for ways to reach new workers.
Young workers are pretty straightforward in that you can usually reach them through schools, says King.
Now we need to find the opportunities for reaching other new workers.