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Bringing Safety and Health Training to Federal Agencies

The Western New York Federal Safety and Health Council
is setting the example for ambitious and creative outreach.

by Ellen Sidell

The Western New York Federal Safety and Health Council has done it again. For the 11th consecutive year, the Buffalo-based volunteer group won OSHA accolades for its efforts to reduce injuries and illnesses in federal workplaces-and for extending its expertise to local private-sector companies. Last October, OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw presented the council with a Superior Performance Award for its accomplishments during Fiscal Year 2001. Henshaw said the group represents "the best in service, commitment, and performance."

defibrillator training

Training is a big focus of the Western New York Federal Safety and Health Council. Above, Mark Schaefer from M.P. Services Group, a private-sector council member, conducts a class on automated external defibrillators.

The council is among the most active of the Federal Safety and Health Councils throughout the United States, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Japan. With representatives of 20 federal agencies that employ more than 15,000 workers in Western New York, the chapter provides dynamic safety and health programs that members can apply in their workplaces. An additional 41 state and local governments, unions, and private-sector companies participate in the chapter as associate council members.

With the support of member agencies and organizations and OSHA's Buffalo Area Office and New York Regional Office, the council conducts an ambitious training and outreach program. Recent training sessions focused on topics of interest to both federal and non-federal members: automated external defibrillators, domestic violence workplace law, and construction and home safety.

In addition, the council sponsored a session on humor in the workplace and stress management-ironically, just one day after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The group had scheduled a locally renowned humor and creativity consultant to put together a presentation for September 12 focused on infusing humor into work and personal environments as well as applying creativity to work environments. The afternoon of the attacks, several board members struggled to decide what to do about the next day's meeting. After much deliberation, they agreed that if ever there was a time when a little humor was needed, this was it. The 33 attendees began the session with a moment of silence for the victims of the attacks.

The following council session focused on the very serious and timely issue of weapons of mass destruction domestic preparedness. Response to the session was so strong that the council had to cut off the number of participants at 65 so they would fit in the meeting room. Similarly, a recent meeting on back safety attracted 60 people-more than a 600 percent increase over the eight people who attended one of the council's first meetings, on ergonomics, after the council was chartered in 1985 by then-Secretary of Labor William E. Brock.

Other favorite topics at the council's meetings over the years have included fire safety; asbestos awareness; carpal tunnel syndrome; legal responsibilities of the supervisor and safety officer; boating safety; electrical safety; slips, trips and falls; and emergency preparedness.

Keith Hall, council chair and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee, said the biggest reason for the council's success and growth is that "We listen to our members and key into the interests they express."

Superior Performance Award

Keith Hall, right, chairman of the Western New York Federal Safety and Health Council, accepts a Superior Performance Award from OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw for the council's strong outreach and education programs.

In addition to training, the council provides members information about safety and health resources and encourages members to take advantage of them. Each session begins with a brief overview of safety and health issues, presented by a representative of OSHA's Buffalo Area Office, and all members are encouraged to ask for help if they have safety and health questions or needs.

"We feel there is a variety of safety and health programs out there as well as a vast knowledge of safety and health, and we try vehemently to share this education with our members," Hall said. JSHQ

Sidell is a program analyst in OSHA's Buffalo Area Office and serves as secretary of the Western New York Federal Safety and Health Council.

Federal Safety and Health Council

The Federal Safety and Health Councils are cooperative, interagency organizations chartered by the Secretary of Labor, which act on the Secretary's behalf to support local occupational safety and health activities.

Councils act as clearinghouses on information and data on occupational accidents, injuries, and illnesses and their prevention. They also provide a forum for sharing ideas, technology, expertise, and other occupational safety and health resources to reduce injuries and illnesses at federal facilities. Working together, members make available training seminars locally at reasonable cost and share occupational safety and health resources and expertise. Representatives from outside the federal government are eligible for associate memberships, and can participate in council training seminars. There are currently 72 councils with charters, 50 of which have active programs. For more information, call (202) 693-2122.