Alberta students taking workplace safety ads to heart

Jason Reid covered his face as he heard the bone cracking and saw the leg breaking at the ankle.

The worker-safety video may be a dramatization, but it was based on a forklift mishap that really happened to a lumber-yard worker, Reid and his classmates were told.

"It kind of made me cringe right up," the Grade 12 student at Bert Church High School in Airdrie said, after watching six graphic online ads in a multimedia campaign the province released online.

Other ads showed a teen slicing his fingers while carelessly chopping parsley, one getting scalded by a deep-fryer, and another slamming to the floor after climbing a shoe-store ladder in high heels.

"Blood's not so bad for me," Reid said. "Broken bones, I find painful to watch. It seemed really lifelike, and likely -- but definitely avoidable."

That's roughly the reaction Alberta Employment officials are hoping for: a dash of shock and a dollop of realization that preventable accidents happen when workers aren't careful. The ministry's Karen MacDonald told Reid's apprenticeship training class that on an average day, six young workers suffer an injury that keeps them from going to work the next day.

Nick Strong, also in the class, recalled seeing an industrial drill break a co-worker's jaw. The 17-year-old is grateful he's learning about safety in school, but said many colleagues don't understand workplace risks.

"A lot of people just show up there and they don't have a lot of common sense. They don't have experience," he said.

The $850,000 campaign was ready to launch a year ago, but Conservative MLAs opposed the graphic images, so it was shelved.

Since then, the government conducted focus-group research with teens, and slightly retooled the campaign without toning down the bloody content that gives the videos a 14-A rating, government spokesman Barrie Harrison said. Viewers aged 15 and 16 said they couldn't believe the scenarios were realistic -- and then were shocked when told they had actually happened, Harrison said.

Older teens, meanwhile, often have more job experience and understand how real the risks are, he said.

Governments from Australia to Ontario and Quebec have launched similar TV campaigns designed to grab viewers' attention.

Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour said the ads unfairly depict young workers as stupid, and pay little attention to the employer's responsibilities.

Calgary Herald, Thurs Oct 30 2008
Byline: Jason Markusoff

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