February 11, 2006
Ergonomics on Rail - One worker makes a difference   Feature in the Jan/Feb CAW Health & Safety Newsletter
If you travel in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor in a VIA Rail club car you will be provided with a hot meal. If you make your reservation
at the last moment there may not be time to ensure that there is a meal for you when you board.  For this reason meal banks have
been established at key en route points such as Ottawa, Kingston and Quebec City.  Extra meals are stored and transported in a
container referred to as "the meal bank".  These meal banks are delivered to the en route points by the first trains of the day, where
they can be drawn upon during the day by other trains where the first class service requires it.

For twenty-five years the meal bank consisted of a large aluminum box, with a narrow folding metal handle.  The front lids had been
long since been replaced by a plastic cling film.  The box is designed to be moved only a short distance, from fridge to transporter.  
Due to its wide shape, the box was awkward to walk with.  It could not be tilted forwarded because the meals could slide out, or
sideways as this would cause the food to spill.  But it could only be held with one hand.  Employees had to carry this box up and down
stairs, across icy platforms, and under the pressure of causing a train delay and consequent financial penalties to the railway. It will
not surprise you to learn that the prime cause of workplace injuries are related to lifting and moving supplies and baggage.

For years on train employees have complained about the size, shape and weight of the meal bank.  But nobody could do anything
about it. Until one worker decided to take action.
Council 4000 member Karen Sawyer
Train Service Manager for VIA Rail
Sister Karen Sawyer is an on train service manager, working out of the Toronto
terminal, with eight years service for VIA Rail.  She is a member of CAW National
Council 4000, representing railway workers both on and off train.  In an interview
with Ron Moisenko for the Health and Safety Training Fund's new course on
workplace stress, she stated that, "I just kept looking at those boxes, going 'One day
I'm going to be walking down the steps, I'm going to flip. I'm going to break my
back'."  She explained further, "I'm in a physical job, so I have to constantly be
thinking of how I lift baggage properly, how I'm walking on the train, how I'm lifting
the door platform up."

Karen had brought up her concern at a staff meeting in January, 2005.

When no change ensued after several months,
she continued to document the hazardous
condition in her trip reports, stating her fear of
long term side effects, and suggesting that she
might be obliged to make a work refusal if there
was no change.  Even though there is not yet an
ergonomics regulation in the federal jurisdiction,
Karen sought advice on how to make change in
her workplace.
Old and new meal bank boxes
VIA Rail Club Car
CAW Council 4000 National Health & Safety
Representative, Ken Cameron

After obtaining advice from her health and safety representative, Ken Cameron, she
decided to lodge a complaint under the Canada Labour Code, section 127.1.  Using
the form that had been developed jointly by the union and the company, Karen
reported that, "Meal bank boxes too large, not able to safely carry them.  Causes
strain in shoulder and could easily fall in winter on steps getting them off the train."

Her supervisor replied that the hazard was well-known but did not have the authority
to act and would pass the matter to another supervisor.

Karen observed about this process that, "The system is not conducive to easily
putting in a complaint.  The system that exists currently is fairly slow and arduous,
and it requires somebody to really feel very passionate about pursuing a complaint."

When still no resolution was forthcoming, Karen then advanced her complaint to a
Transport Canada Health and Safety Officer, Ms. Michelle Cartmill.  This resulted in a direction to the employer on August 22, 2005,
citing them for failing "to investigate, record and report" the matter, ensuring "that each employee is made aware of every known or
foreseeable hazard in the area where the employee works when required to use meal bank boxes.  This failure could result in an
injury to a VIA Rail Canada employee."

"But it took twenty-five years for someone to finally speak up and say, 'I don't care how long it takes.  I'm going to get rid of these
boxes.'  How many times is someone going to feel that passionate, because once you get discouraged a little bit, you just go 'Oh, to
hell with it.  Just forget it.  It's not worth it'."

Her fellow workers will be happy that Karen Sawyer did not give up.  Even some of her supervisors now say to her, "It's really good that
you did this."  She observes that "people are more inclined to pursue a complaint if they feel there is going to be a positive result, not
just in 'I was successful' but in positive reinforcement as well."

Source:  Jan/Feb 2006 CAW Health & Safety Newsletter