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Evaluation of OHS Risks: Design Criteria for a Tool for “Work-Oriented Training Path” - Traineeship Supervisors

Summary

In Québec, according to statistics from the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST), occupational injury claims filed by young workers have decreased considerably in the past decade. However, certain groups of young people remain more vulnerable to occupational injuries, such as those with learning or adaptation difficulties. These youth often work in manual occupations, have little experience and may have specific comprehension difficulties that could undermine their ability to learn a trade. In 2007–2008, the ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur (MEES) implemented the “Work-oriented Training Path” (WOPT) for these young people, to prepare them for the labour market. The program consists of two options that follow a work-study approach with an emphasis on workplace traineeships as a way of learning: “Training for a Semiskilled Trade” (TST), for students with slight to moderate learning difficulties, and “Prework Training” (PT), for students with greater learning or adaptation difficulties or who have a learning or work disability.

Teachers who supervise the students during their workplace traineeship play a pivotal role. They assist students in choosing a trade that corresponds to their interests and abilities, find a traineeship workplace and negotiate the traineeship agreement with the company. They then support the students’ integration into the traineeship, follow their learning progression and assess their skill levels at the end of the traineeship. The teachers make use of two key pedagogical practices: supervision visits to the traineeship workplace and reflexive activities in the classroom. According to the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases, trainees enrolled in the WOTP are considered as being employed by their educational institution, because the traineeships are unpaid. If a student is injured during the traineeship, the responsibility for the accident is attributed to the student’s school and not to the workplace in which he or she was doing the traineeship. For that reason, the traineeship teacher-supervisors must ensure that the occupational health and safety hazards present in the workplace do not compromise the learning or health of the students. The goal of this study is to explore the possibility of developing a tool to help these teachers assess OHS risks that is compatible with their needs, abilities and the multiple contexts of work.

The study has the following objectives:

  1. To ascertain the supervision conditions and, more generally, the work activities of the teachers when they visit their students in their workplaces;
  2. To determine the resources that traineeship teacher-supervisors require to assist them with prevention issues, by detailing their perception of OHS in the traineeship environments, their knowledge of risks and risk factors, what they do to identify hazards in the workplace, and prevention activities that they have implemented;
  3. To gain insight into teachers’ perception of their operational leeway and their personal efficacy to exercise a prevention role, specifically, for carrying out risk assessments and raising the issue in the traineeship environment;
  4. To describe the opportunities for implementing a tool to help in assessing risk from the point of view of the workplaces that receive the trainees;
  5. To identify risk assessment tools for non-specialists from the principle documentation centres and websites of organizations dedicated to preventing occupational injuries.

 

The study was based on observations of nine teachers during their supervision visits at the workplaces, focus groups with 17 teachers, semi-structured interviews with five employers who received students for traineeships, and a review of the OHS risk assessment tools addressed to non-specialists found on the Internet sites of prevention organizations.

The research findings showed that teachers generally have little time to carry out their supervision visits, although the situation varies from one teacher to another. The duration and format of each visit depends on the school’s organization (number of students supervised, number of days devoted to supervision, etc.), the specific situation of each student, the availability of contact people in the company to discuss the issues and the possibility of observing the student working. Moreover, the findings reveal that students may be faced with a broad range of hazards related to the diversity of the trades and the traineeship environments. Teachers prioritize raising students’ awareness as a prevention strategy, based on their professional experiences and information gleaned from Internet sites focused on the issue. They appear reluctant to challenge businesses about prevention, because they feel that they have limited OHS knowledge, have not been trained to deal with the issue and fear that raising the subject would discourage employers they want to add to their list of traineeship workplaces. The possibility for teachers to exercise a preventive role is thus directly influenced by the scarcity of traineeship locations and by the understanding that their business contacts have of the role of supervisor.

At the end of the project, a two-part risk assessment assistance tool is planned. This tool would also reassure teachers by giving them justifiable reasons to act in matters of prevention. The tool should include the following:

  1. A concise and illustrated description of nine types of OHS hazards that students may face in various trades, to help the teachers identify risk factors in traineeship environments. This document could be developed by compiling relevant information from the tools identified during the documentation and website searches.
  2. A methodological guide that includes the following:
  • Tips to help teachers formulate questions for employers about possible hazards and accident risk;
  • An observation aid to help teachers assess OHS risks that students are exposed to when they go to see them at their workplaces. This observation aid would be based on the human activity self-regulatory process model (St-Vincent et al., 2011), and on methods used by ergonomists during their workplace practice. Concretely, the guide will provide teachers with information about
  • what to look for and what to pay attention to when observing students at work;
  • methods for negotiating their presence with company personnel;
  • criteria for choosing the best times to make their observations (quieter moments or peak periods) and their respective interests.
  • A list of strategies implemented by teachers to challenge companies when a hazardous situation is identified.