Delegates pledge to make the world safer

It began with delegates from 33 countries around the globe pledging to make the world a safer place.
Through workshops, presentations, and discussions on safety programs, the World Health Organization’s 11th International and 5th National Conference on Safe Communities which kicked off here Tuesday morning aims to do just that.
“This is North American Occupational Safety and Health Week,” Ontario Labour minister Brad Clark told a crowd of more than 100 delegates and 200 spectators during opening ceremonies at the Ice for Kids Arena.
Clark said the biggest tool in combating workplace injuries is prevention.
“In my ministry, we have dropped the word accident from our vocabulary,” he told the crowd. “When it comes to workplace illness, injury, and death, there are no accidents.
“Every time someone is injured or ill at work is completely preventable,” he stressed.
Clark recounted the experiences of fellow guest speaker Paul Kells, whose son was killed on the job when a flammable chemical he was carrying ignited.
Losing a son caused Kells to create the Safe Communities Foundation here in Canada, and Clark said it should be everyone’s mission to ensure no other parent loses a child in the workplace.
“The death of a young worker offends me and it should offend anyone,” he said. “The only way to put an end to workplace injuries, illness, and death is prevention.
“Making sure that workers aren’t injured in the first place should be and is our goal.”
Clark pointed to the 1998 Preventing Illness and Injury report as his government’s action plan to make workplaces safer. He said that since 1995, the injury rate has dropped 30 percent in the province.
“We’re now the lowest in Canada and we’re not finished yet,” he vowed.
But NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton said Ontario has a long way to go before all workplaces are made completely safe.
“People killed on the job since 1997 that number has, unfortunately, been rising,” he said, pointing to statistics from 1999-2001.
“The number of young people who suffer serious injury on the job or at school . . . those numbers are going up, as well, and they’re growing in terms of their seriousness,” he continued.
Hampton called on everyone at the conference to redouble their efforts to make communities—and especially the workplace—safer.
“There’s so much still to be done, so much we can learn from each other,” he said.
Dr. Leif Svanstrom, head of the WHO’s Collaborating Centre on Community Safety and Promotion in Sweden, said making communities safer went beyond looking at injury statistics.
“Safety is something much wider than the absence of injury in the same way that health is much more than the absence of disease,” he explained.
This philosophy has been the driving force behind the hundreds of safety programs currently running in Rainy River District.
Safety, Education, Equal Opportunity, Dedication, and Sustainability (S.E.E.D.S.) is the motto of this conference, which also saw Rainy River District declared a world “safety community” on Tuesday night—only the third such community in Canada after Fort McMurray, Alta. and Brockville, Ont.
Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said the region is preparing to take safety measures to the next level.
“S.E.E.D.S. is only the beginning of where we’re going with this. Our goal is to create a safety institute to teach safety,” he noted.
“This institute would be recognized throughout Canada and around the world.”
In the meantime, hundreds of volunteers across the district continue to keep programs on everything from needle exchanges to anti-drinking and driving campaigns going.
Some of those volunteers were on hand for the opening ceremonies yesterday morning, witnessing dozens of local Sea Cadets and members of the Atikokan Air Cadet squadron march around the Ice for Kids Arena bearing flags from the countries participating in this conference.
Delegates also were entertained by an energetic children’s choir, directed by Diane Maxey, filled with students from 10 local schools and eager to dance and sing for the world.
Local MP Robert Nault, also the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, said the district will continue to partner with the 10 area First Nation communities and other groups to expand safety programs.
“They are working together to promote a safe and healthy community that improves the quality of life for all,” he said.
Nault also urged delegates from six continents to take every opportunity to brainstorm and share experiences with various safety initiatives over the next two days of the conference, which ends Thursday.
“[Our goal is] to make Canada and the world safer by your initiative,” he said.