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Training helps keep members safe, healthy on the job

BE SAFE – PEF health and safety trainer Paige Engelhardt leads an August class of state employees in discussing how to identify and address ergonomic issues at their worksites.

Story and photos by SHERRY HALBROOK

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One of the most important ways PEF serves you and all of its members is the hard work that goes on every day to keep you safe and healthy on the job.

This work is mainly carried out by hundreds of PEF members who serve on joint health and safety committees at their agencies and worksites, and by PEF division leaders and stewards, regional coordinators and PEF officers. They are led by members of the statewide joint Health and Safety Committee co-chaired for PEF by Region 8 Coordinator Michael Blue and Executive Board member Darlene Williams, and they are all trained and aided by PEF’s health and safety staff.

Health and safety committees, like labor-management committees, are authorized under the union contracts, and are meant to be joint efforts by both PEF and management.

A good example of the dedication and expertise that these dedicated members and staff bring to this work is PEF Executive Board member Robert Mahoney. He is the PEF statewide health and safety chair at the state Office of Information Technology Systems and he has been a health and safety activist at ITS since the agency was established six years ago, and he was active at the state Health Department for 12 years before that.

Even after 18 years of experience and training, Mahoney still made time to attend an Ergonomics Training August 14 at PEF headquarters. He was one of 38 people in attendance from 10 different state agencies: Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Office of Children and Family Services, Department of Environmental Conservation, Workers’ Compensation; Transportation Department; Office of Mental Health, Education Department, Office of the State Comptroller and ITS.

“I was there because it was a great refresher,” Mahoney said. “New material comes out almost every year and I want to stay current. I made sure to invite all of my Health and Safety Committee members to attend, and our stewards, too. It’s always important to keep getting new people trained and involved.”

PEF health and safety trainer Paige Engelhardt, who conducted the training, said it was one of two kinds of ergonomics classes she teaches:

• Direct Ergonomics Training takes about two to three hours and covers the basics of how a person’s physical position and posture at work affect their body and how to customize their work stations and work habits to minimize physical stress and strains; and

• Ergonomics Assessor Training, which was the subject of the August 14 class, takes six hours and is more comprehensive. It includes the basics plus much more.

“In the Ergonomics Assessor Training we cover systems of the human body, and the cause and effect of postures and positions one might place themselves in at work,” Engelhardt said. “We discuss musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomic injuries and medical management. We also talk about how to appropriately tell someone that they need to relay information to their doctor. In addition, participants learn how to develop an ergonomics policy and program when they return to their worksites.

“The objective of this training is to thoroughly educate attendees on ergonomics, give them a point person, that’s me, to contact when they have questions, and give them hands-on experience assessing volunteers at their workstations. We also aim to create a network of assessors, and to send them off to complete assessments and work jointly at their agencies to set up policies and programs at their worksites.”

The ergonomics training is very popular and Engelhardt said “200 people across the state have taken the assessor class, with half of them trained in just the past couple of years. Between the two classes, we have trained thousands of people over the past decade.”

One outstanding advantage of this and all of the health and safety trainings Engelhardt and other PEF health and safety staff provide is that it is funded through a state Labor Department Hazard Abatement Board grant and is open to all state employees, in every bargaining unit as well as management /confidential employees.

“Preventing employee injuries and illness saves agencies money because it reduces lost time and workers’ compensation costs and that is a powerful incentive for them to support it,” Engelhardt said. “I always invite M/C employees to come to the trainings, because it is much easier and faster to solve workplace problems when everyone is grounded in the same information and is on the same page in approaching a situation.”

Ergonomics is far from the only kind of training PEF provides through the grant. Other topics include:

• workplace violence;

• bullying and conflict;

• occupational stress;

• blood-borne pathogens;

• navigating workers’ compensation;

• when and how to report problems to the state Labor Department’s Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau;

• health and safety provisions in the contract (Article 18 of the PS&T contract);

• how to form and operate a joint health and safety committee; and

• how to mobilize members around health and safety issues.

“The August 14 training was a multi-agency approach that stemmed from requests made through the statewide health and safety committees,” Engelhardt said. “The next locations where I would like to perform Ergonomic Assessor Training are Syracuse and Binghamton.”

To request training for your PEF division or worksite, call union headquarters at 800-342-4306, extension 254, or email your request to gro.f1537883954ep@yt1537883954efaSd1537883954nahtl1537883954aeH1537883954.

For more information about PEF health and safety training and other programs and services, go online to http://www.pef.org/member-resources/health-and-safety/.

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