27th June 2012
Let me start off by saying that safety is a right of all employees, not just apprentices. Safety is also everyone’s responsibility.
The old culture of giving an apprentice a rough time and the odd derogatory comment is long gone; I am glad to see the back of it. All employees have the right to be able to come to work, complete their day, and go home in the same condition that they arrived in.
I want to share an experience of this type of culture that goes back to when I was a young boy sent out on work experience as a year 10 student in the Eighties. I went to work in the electrical section of a Government Department. Full of confidence, I was excited to have the opportunity to potentially get an apprenticeship with the Government in a field that my father had guided me to, as he was an electrician. I spent the first four days in the van travelling around attending repairs to traffic lights and working in the workshop. It was great until the last afternoon. Just before we went home one of the tradesman told me to make sure I wear old clothes tomorrow as I was going to be initiated. In asking what it meant, he said I was going to be greased and covered in powder. Naturally they said they were joking, however all laughed. Petrified, I went home and told my father who said, “what are you worried about, that won’t happen”. Doubting to myself if I wanted to go back to work, I decided to not return. The decision was not only to stay home; it was also to not ever go back to being an apprentice.
Sadly, as part of bullying and harassment, this was a common case back then – sometimes even worse cases. However, we are now more aware than ever the effects of working in an unsafe environment. Whether the threat is from machinery or from fellow employees, it is still unsafe and no-one is legally obligated to work under those conditions. Apprentices have rights just as the CEO does, and that is that they can be confident that the workplace has been made as safe as possible. This extends to not only the issue I have mentioned but to safe work practices, supply of safety equipment and training in areas of their profession.
In visiting and talking to many apprentices over the past four years there is one major point that I would like to discuss in regards to the rights of apprentices. Many apprentices start their career as young boys, usually 16-17 years of age, working in a very robust and sometimes dangerous environment. During their transition to tradesman and also developing into young men, they can sometimes be too uncomfortable to raise safety concerns to the tradesman they are working with – stating that, “I can’t tell a tradesman that I feel unsafe, I will just do it” (work unsafely that is).
The discussion then trends towards the right of apprentices, which simply is that it is your right to be kept safe at work. I remind them that if they think a task or piece of equipment is unsafe – you have the right to question it. A simple phrase to remember is, “If in doubt – DON’T”. This is not to say that you doubt every instruction, however if you have a serious safety concern just ask the question. It is much easier to find out early that it is ok to proceed than go ahead and end up with an injury.
The scenario I also put to the apprentices I have talked to is that if a co worker, apprentice or even tradesman are conducting themselves in an unsafe manner when completing a task, it is their responsibility to talk to that person being unsafe. What this creates is a working environment where everyone looks after each other. If the apprentices are informed that they don’t have the right or authority to enquire around safety matters, they can discuss the matter with their supervisor and MIGAS Field Officer for clarification.
At worst if they forget to do something, even something as simple as not putting their safety glasses on immediately, someone in the work shop would tap them on the shoulder and politely remind them.
Safety can be a positive culture and a very productive culture to have in our workplace. Workplace Health and Safety was introduced to protect the rights of workers in our businesses, as I stated, from apprentices and trainees all the way to CEO level.
NSW State Manager