Helping First Nations Make Workplace Safety a Priority
Toby Desnomie managed to do it.
He’s figured out a way to translate the tedious, methodical tools of occupational health and safety into public policy.
That public policy is the focal point of a new safety association – the Saskatchewan First Nations Safety Association (SFNSA) – and conference set for Thursday this week in Saskatoon that were both instigated by Desnomie.
He was once a fresh-faced 18-year-old pipeliner starting out his career in the construction industry, which has a significant focus on safety.
“I started to realize my intrinsic skills were in pipelining and they couldn’t transfer over to anything else. So I started to diversity my experiences in housing construction,” he said.
Now 43, Desnomie has turned the past 25 years into work contracts, sabbaticals, new training certifications and starting his own occupational health and safety consulting company, TGD.
It was through his work at TGD, started in 2002, that Desnomie started thinking about occupational health and safety on First Nations; he’s from Peepeekisis First Nation.
“What kind of First Nation organizations could use these types of programs, like the occupational health and safety management program?” was one of his first ideas, he said.
That’s what led him to creating the safety association and Thursday’s conference, a large component of which he hopes will be dialogue.
“[It’s] to start to think about control measures and our public safety. What do we want as First Nations people in our communities? What would we like to see in the future for our children with respect to these communities? How can we put forward a plan and a strategy to fulfill all these needs?” he said.
The feedback he’s received so far has been overwhelming, he said.
“Communities understand we need safety on many different levels,” he said. “We have to start to control and put together a strategy to start to look in the long term rather than the short term, looking at pro-activeness rather than reactiveness.”
The dialogue and discussion is key, because communities need to quantify what specific public safety needs they have, according to Desnomie.
Possible examples are policing and justice, safe drinking water, safe spaces and walking spaces and safe places to play.
“Is it public safety in our roads and access in byways? Is it public safety in our schools, in our school yards, in our driveways? Is it public safety in our operations of where we work?” he said.
That dialogue process has its roots in risk management, an important part of occupational health and safety, Desnomie said.
Normally after a risk assessment is done for an organization, there’s then a hierarchy of control measures created to reduce or eliminate that risk. “The hierarchy is either eliminate, substitute, engineer, administrate or [use] personal protective equipment,” he said.
Those control measures are created and utilized within a health and safety management and administration program. The program is then applied to the specific organization.
It’s through dialogue at the conference and future work through the safety association that Desnomie hopes each First Nation will identify its public safety needs and do risk assessments.
“Bands on First Nations: these are our prime directive. To help them set up health and safety management programs, develop two administrators or so within the departments [and] identify control hazards as we go through a needs assessment with them,” he said.
He also emphasized avoiding a piecemeal approach that targets one specific, acute area of need.
“Is there one major thing or an accumulation of several things? I think it’s a holistic understanding of what occupational health is and that awareness. Therefore, when we really start to look at it, it’s more of a public safety awareness campaign that we’re putting on.
“And then out of that campaign and needs assessment we’ll start to see all the critical masses now accumulate and therefore we can start to control what we identify,” he said.
As for long-term goals, Desnomie said he wants to see every First Nation in the province have a health safety management program in place, along with two trained administrators with established processes.
He said he could see such administrators working in any department that falls under a First Nation, like health services, capital infrastructure, education, judicial systems, water treatment or elder complexes.
If that happens within five years, “I think we’re well on our way to a successful community and awareness,” he said.
A new organization aims to help First Nations in Saskatchewan with occupational health and safety in an effort to have injury-free workplaces on reserves.
New organization aims to make First Nations workers injury-free
A new organization hopes to improve the occupational health and safety of employees working for First Nations and First Nation businesses.