PORT HAWKESBURY: On a morning that saw many marking the 25th anniversary of the Westray mine disaster, Kathy Betts found herself recalling an unpleasant memory of her own, in front of local community college students and staff.
Betts arrived at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) Strait Area Campus on May 9, 60 years to the day after her father was crushed by a coal car at a now-defunct mine site in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) community of Broughton.
Now a volunteer with the Threads of Life program designed to assist families affected by a workplace fatality, life-altering injury or occupational disease, Betts spoke to an attentive audience at the Strait Area Campus cafeteria as part of North America Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week, which itself was marking its 25th anniversary.
“If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s that if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t, so make sure you take the time and have another look at it,” said Betts, a certified health and safety officer with the Nova Scotia Construction Safety Association (NSCSA) and the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE).
“Know that others rely on you to show good judgment at work, and if something is not sitting right in your gut, stop and take another look at it – not just at work, but when you’re out on the highways and out playing sports… Remember, one split-second can make a huge difference.”
Betts’ comments came after an address by the NSCC’s provincial safety officer for occupational health, safety, and environmental services, Jeffrey Thibeau, who spoke about the changes to Nova Scotia’s occupational health and safety laws that occurred after the Westray explosion claimed 26 lives in the spring of 1992.
“One of the major things that happened was that three workers’ rights changed greatly – the right to know, the right to participate and the right to refuse unsafe work,” Thibeau told The Reporter following the NAOSH Week ceremony.
“Other things that happened were the creation of a NAOSH committee and an occupational health and safety representative, and the [provincial legislation] really became focused on prevention and education, which are the two things we needed most here in the province.”
Thibeau added that Nova Scotia’s new Occupational Health and Safety Act led the NSCC network to ensure health and safety training for its students as they prepare to enter the workforce, which he described as a “big-time” necessity for the labour-intensive marine training and other programs available at Strait Area Campus.
“In the Strait area, we have to walk that line between federal and provincial law – some of the workplaces that we’re preparing students for are federal workplaces, whereas others are provincial workplaces,” Thibeau noted.
“So it’s our responsibility to ensure that training happens, and the real challenge of it is, ‘You name it, we do it.’ So safety doesn’t just look one way for us here at this organization – it’s very dependent on what students need to take them into the workplace.”