Changes needed for kids' workshadow program

An expert safety panel is urging stricter, more uniform safety guidelines for a national job shadowing programs for students.

Some of the key recommendations for Take Our Kids to Work Day — which allows Grade 9 students to shadow a parent or relative at work for a day — include having students and parents sign consent forms that outline the importance of safety at work, beginning the program with mandatory orientations that focus on relevant health and safety issues at workplaces and requiring a full workplace safety inspection before employers can participate in the program.

The 16-member safety panel, formed by the Learning Partnership, a non-profit organization that runs the job-shadowing program, released 14 recommendations last month. The panel, made up of safety specialists from companies across the country, was created in light of the tragic accident that marked last year’s program. Two 14-year-olds died at the John Deere Welland Works, in southern Ontario, after crashing the cart-like vehicle they were operating alone. A coroner’s inquest is being scheduled to investigate what went on that day and if the children were being supervised. The safety panel’s recommendations have been sent to the Ontario coroner’s office.

“After the tragic accident the feedback we had was ‘what a sad, sad occurrence.’ But, the program is important for kids and parents and it must be continued. That’s the message we got from everybody. There was tremendous support for it,” said Veronica Lacey, president and CEO of the Learning Partnership.

Lacey said the recommendations improve on existing guidelines and policies of the program.

“The importance of these recommendations is that they are not totally new but that they enhance the effectiveness of the program,” said Lacey. “This gives employers more information and will carry a tremendous amount of weight.”

She pointed out that most organizations do have orientation programs and provide health and safety-related information provided to students. The point of the recommendations is to generalize these practices across the board to the 75,000 Canadian organizations that participate every year.

While each school board requires some type of permission form to be signed by parents before allowing students to participate in the program, the recommendation that calls for a participating student to directly sign a form outlining personal responsibility for maintaining a safe workplace will have a tremendous impact, said Lacey.

“It helps to keep engaging students, giving them responsibility over their own personal safety and underlining the safety issues in the workplace.”

The recommendations will also be sent to Ontario’s labour ministry and to other government initiatives on the health and safety of young people in the workplace.

While the guidelines have been supported by employers, labour associations and other stakeholder groups, Lacey told a news conference that her organization itself cannot enforce the guidelines.

“We are not a regulatory body, therefore we don’t have the authority to impose the guidelines we generate.”

The impact, she said, will come from the message and the people who have been supporting the program and the guidelines.

“We’ve had nothing but co-operation. There is an increasing awareness of the part of employers about health and safety. The most important part is that we are making it clear that health and safety is a 365-day issue,” she said.

The job-shadowing program started in 1994 and since then more than one million students have participated. This year’s program is scheduled for Nov. 7.

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