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Months later, workplace safety message lingers on at St. Malachy's High

Rachel Milne’s dream is to go to university to become a counselling psychologist – she can’t afford to put her future on hold for a workplace injury. To her teachers at St. Malachy's Memorial High School, the Grade 11 student is smart, polite, and a joy to have in class. To her peers, she is a positive role model who has earned their respect.

So when she was asked to introduce guest speaker Candace Carnahan before 400 fellow students during the WorkSafeNB-sponsored See Something. Say Something. tour last October, she didn’t hesitate.

“I was a bit nervous but after learning more about Candace’s story, I’m very grateful I was asked,” Milne said.

As a young worker, Carnahan was seriously injured in a mill accident that claimed her leg below the knee. Today she is a public speaker who shares her story with employers, government organizations and students across the country. She spent six weeks last fall sharing her story with students in a tour of Anglophone schools around the province.

Rachel Milne
Rachel Milne

Months later, the effects can still be felt.

“It’s definitely a step above books and pamphlets,” Milne said, speculating that thanks to social media and smartphones, student attention spans aren’t what they used to be.  “I knew from looking around the room that we were all hanging off her every word. People still talk about it.”

This is welcome news to WorkSafeNB’s youth programs co-ordinator Jessica Brodie, who acknowledges that you have to be creative to get a long-lasting impact that will follow students through their working lives.

“We realize there are competing interests these days and that you have to make the most of your opportunities. We have to challenge the teenage perception of invincibility and sometimes that means showing them what can happen if you take safety for granted. To do that, we have to ensure we make a connection with the students.”

And sometimes the challenge is getting your foot in the door. St. Malachy's principal Beth Horgan is approached throughout the year by many organizations, each wishing to promote a message or service. But because curriculums are tight, she said the school can only approve a select few.

“We have to ensure that it will be a worthwhile experience for the students and that it will give them something they don’t necessarily get from the classroom.”

It didn’t take Horgan long to realize they had chosen a winner.

“This wasn’t just a message. She [Carnahan] developed an excellent rapport with students through storytelling. Not everyone can relate to losing a limb, but we can all relate to how such a traumatic experience would impact our emotional well-being and that of our friends, families and co-workers.”

As the high school principal, Horgan said she always pays special attention to students during assemblies. It’s not simply to ensure good behaviour.

“I always ask myself, ‘Will the students remember this?’ And from the look on their faces, I knew they would.”

Take Milne for example. Like many 16-year-old girls, she works part-time at a retail clothing store. While the risks aren’t as obvious as those found in a mill like the one where Carnahan was injured, Milne said when you view the world through a different lens, you see things you might have missed before.

“In retail, the most obvious hazards are from climbing ladders to reach high shelves. I have friends who work in fast food who need to be careful with cooking oil, grills and sharp utensils. If you look closely at any job, you’ll find risks.”

While identifying hazards is one thing, finding the courage to speak up about them is another. Much like the name of the tour suggested, Carnahan’s main point encouraged students to dig deep and speak up when they see something unsafe.

“Research shows that’s one of the toughest hurdles to overcome,” Brodie said. “It can be quite daunting for a young, inexperienced worker to speak up, particularly around older, more seasoned colleagues.”

The data backs it up. A recent survey of Atlantic Canadian youth indicated they may be hesitant to speak up of for fear of reprisal. Furthermore, more than 1,000 New Brunswickers between the ages of 15 and 24 were injured at work in 2013.

“Young workers want acceptance,” Brodie said. “They don’t want to be seen as a weak link or a liability.”

But try telling that to Milne. Soon after the presentation, she noticed her father, Michael, an auto mechanic with 36 years of experience spray painting an old car in the garage. When she noticed he wasn’t wearing his personal protective equipment, she held him to task.

“I said, ‘Dad, put that on before you get hurt!,’ and he did. Injuries don’t discriminate. Anyone can get hurt, whether you’ve been doing the job for years or if it’s your first day. But by being safe, you are helping others to be safe as well.”

The Milnes
Soon after the youth tour, Rachel found herself in a position to remind her father, Michael, to wear his personal protective equipment while working on a vehicle in the family garage.

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