The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has been advised that on March 28, 2012, the Board of Directors of the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) will consider a motion regarding the use of soft foam protective equipment in the schools. OPSEU represents Education Assistants (EAs) who work with special needs students in the SCDSB. They are concerned that the Board will not fully consider employee health and safety when they discuss this important issue.
“Our members deserve to be safe at all times in the workplace,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “Unfortunately these workers have experienced incidents where they are bitten, kicked, and beaten while they are at work. The use of foam protective equipment protects both the Educational Assistants and the students.”
“We are highly trained professionals who care deeply about the students we support,” said Silvanna Petersen, President of OPSEU Local 330. “We want what is best for these young people, and work to ensure their safety and well-being is protected. We also want our workplace to be safe for the people who support them.”
“Foam equipment provides soft protection allowing a worker to ensure their own safety as well as the safety of the student. They are only used in cases where the worker feels that health and safety is at risk,” said Petersen.
Under Section 32 of the Health and Safety Act, Directors and Officers of the Board have specific responsibilities. Petersen said “we are asking that the employer not respond to this issue until they properly understand the full implications of their decision.”
Lack of funding is endemic to Ontario’s special needs services. “The government needs to ensure that appropriate funding is in place to provide for suitable workspaces, equipment, resources and staffing that will more fully address the very specific high needs of these young people. Improvement to the funding formula would go a long way to improving health and safety issues in these schools,” said Petersen.
EAs provide students with educational support to achieve success in academic, behaviour, social, life skills and co-op situations. They contribute to the learning development and integration of all students by creating a safe and supportive environment.
Silvanna Petersen, President of OPSEU Local 330: 705 627 5346
Emily Visser, OPSEU Communications Officer (bilingual): 416-557-7936