Conference fuels activists to raise workplace health & safety to higher levels
Story and photos by DEBORAH A. MILES
More than 300 health and safety activists participated in a conference held at the Saratoga Hilton January 11-13 and adhered to its theme “Moving Safety Forward: Respect the Past, Question the Present, and Prepare for the Future.”
Sponsored by the state and PEF, the conference, which is held every two years, offered 15 workshops, ranging from office ergonomics to working with combative patients. And the more than 30 speakers and facilitators, experts in their fields, provided a wealth of information to the attendees.
Eileen Franko, director of the Division of Safety and Health at the state Department of Labor, delivered a poignant keynote address, along with a slide show.
“Safety is not an add-on to a job. It is part of every job,” Franko said. “Today everything is changing due to new technologies. We need to be ahead of it and think. Patient care will change with more knowledge, and equipment will get better. Be cognizant of the new things, but don’t forget the old things that still plague us such as slips, trips and falls.
“Because of health and safety advocates, we have seen a reduction of injuries over the years. Assaults now comprise the highest incidence of injuries and it involves jobs that take care of others, whether it is in correctional facilities, mental health or addiction centers.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to learn, network and get energized. With the tools you have learned, you have the opportunity to see health and safety concerns or issues at a higher level. Never be afraid to speak up, and realize the only qualification you really need to be a health and safety advocate is to care,” Franko said. “The one thing I want you to never forget is that safety is all about you.”
PEF President Wayne Spence also addressed the conference attendees, acknowledging the event organizers which included PEF staff, representatives from the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER), Mike Volforte and Ed Cotrell, and Article 18 and event co-chairs PEF Region 8 Coordinator Michael Blue and Executive Board member Darlene Williams.
Spence spoke about the union’s mission and vision, its accomplishments during the past two years, and challenges. As the conference was held just prior to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Spence quoted the honored civil rights activist:
“The labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation, but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed levels of production. Those who today attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”
PEF divisions were encouraged to send a new activist to the conference to help prepare the union and state workplaces for the future. It was titled the Plus One Program, and 35 members accepted the challenge.
James Steed, a mental health program specialist at the state Office of Mental Health’s Albany Central Office, said, “I’m a rookie. I recently became involved with the Health and Safety Committee at my office and thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more.
“This is all new to me. I’ve met a lot of people, and I have learned a lot from the information that has been provided. The SHIP (Safety and Health Initiatives Program) grant information was very valuable. I didn’t know there were funds available to help committees and provide more training. It’s been an eye-opening experience for me,” Steed said.
Noelle Fabian, a teacher and assistant council leader at Five Points Correctional Facility, also said the conference enlightened her about SHIP grants.
“This is the first time I have heard about the grants and I already have a plan to write one.
“Safety is always an issue, and we strive to make sure everyone follows the proper protocols, rules and regulations that the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has set up for us to be safe.
“This conference has been great and very informative, and from what I have learned, it will help establish a health and safety committee at Five Points CF.”
Alfred Ives gleaned a lot of information at the previous Health and Safety Conference, and wanted to “follow-up and learn more.”
“I am co-chair of the Health and Safety Committee at Audit Control at the state Comptroller’s Office, and I would like more resources to be better informed. At our agency, I would like to see what we have done in terms of historic assessments. We do have trainings such as active shooter, and I am part of that committee. We are working to get more videos and training available to our members. Along with this conference, which is overall very informative, PESH (Public Employee Safety and Health) and other bureaus are also sources for more information.”
Blue and Williams included an awards ceremony at the event.
Lindsay Bonanza received the Judith Scanlon PEF Health and Safety Award for her role in fighting for better working conditions and safety for DOCCS employees at Mohawk Correctional Facility where she works as a teacher. This award gives recognition to grassroots activists who fight for safety on the job and workers rights. As a result of her efforts, improvements were made to increase safety and awareness.
The Bernie Kahn Outstanding Service Award, which recognizes an activist for sustained and outstanding efforts and dedication to improve the lives of workers, was given to Angel Cook.
As chair of her local and statewide Health and Safety Committee, Cook, a workforce program specialist at the state Department of Labor, cultivated a relationship with management and the Civil Service Employees Association and developed analytical and tracking systems to identify health and safety issues.
Yatram Bruce Jagroop accepted the Agency Award, presented by GOER and PEF, to him as chair of PEF’s Health and Safety and Safe Patient Handling (SPH) Committees, and to management chair Joseph Moslow at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Jagroop, an occupational and environmental safety specialist, said the SPH Committee worked as a team to improve working conditions, state-of-the-art training and equipment. (See related story page 11.)
The Kathy D’Arminio Special Recognition Award, a new award named after one of PEF’s most respected and accomplished activists, recognizes the life-long achievements of individuals who have improved the lives of workers. It was bestowed upon former PEF Director of Occupational Health and Safety Jonathan Rosen, who helped members at numerous agencies and facilities to address and resolve a myriad of health and safety issues. He was instrumental in the union’s success in obtaining workplace violence and mandatory overtime legislation.
Rosen, who spoke last, talked about the strength of solidarity, citing how PEF raised $250,000 to help the survivors of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center and trained 300 leaders and activists for emergency preparedness and disaster response programs.
He said today’s major health and safety issue is the assaults on staff.
“It’s more than just physical injuries. We, as a union, are all about the well-being of both the physical and psychological health of all our members. We need to develop more training programs for resiliency, especially for members who work in mental health facilities.”
Rosen told the attendees to remain diligent, strong and active as times are changing in the labor movement.
Geraldine Stella, PEF occupational health and safety specialist, said, “We were thrilled with the response to this conference. Members attended despite travel conditions and participated in every aspect of the program. This proves the dedication of both labor and management representatives to the safety of the state’s workers.”