Interview with WSN chair Dwight Harper
Workplace tragedy has touched Dwight Harper’s family not once, but twice. As a health and safety instructor, he makes a point of sharing his story.
“When I teach, I tell participants about my own family. My father died at the age of 48 from work-related silicosis, and my father-in-law was killed by a drunk driver while driving a city bus. They need to be aware that throughout their working careers, one in three workers experience an injury or occupational health issue severe enough that they cannot perform their normal duties. Because of that, some people say ‘zero harm’ is unattainable. I say, ‘Hogwash.’ Not only do I believe it’s doable, I’m confident that we are not far from that reality.”
Harper is a founding board member at Workplace Safety North (WSN), which was created through the 2010 amalgamation of Ontario’s mining, forestry, and pulp and paper health and safety associations, and this year he was named chair of the board.
He began his career as an apprentice with Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie in 1973, spending a total of eight years with the company, as well as another 15 years in construction, and 23 years in the mining industry.
“I probably worked at more different types of workplaces than your 'average Joe,'” says Harper. “I’m also an instructor for the Workers’ Health and Safety Centre. I’ve been instructing health and safety provincially for about the past 12 years, and I sit on the advisory board for OHCOW [Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers] as well. So I’ve been around a little,” he laughs.
Diving into the role of WSN Chair, Harper was a little surprised by how active it was for a volunteer position. He attends all subcommittees as an ex-officio observer, so that, “when I come to the board meeting I have a bit of history on the discussion that took place at each of these subcommittees.” He spends time preparing for board meetings, staying informed about activities and events that affect WSN, corresponding with the Chief Prevention Officer, and consulting with WSN Chief Executive Officer Candys Ballanger-Michaud.
The original six board members held true to their three legacy groups as best they could. “We’ve found that as we move forward – those three groups are still important – and we’ve also tried to diversify our board, to look at our holistic picture for the north, “ says Harper, “and it’s a lot bigger than we anticipated, so there’s going to be some growing pains I’m sure as we move forward.”
“Interesting times ahead, indeed,” says Harper. “The commitment in my workplace was to reach zero harm. We haven’t got there yet. I think we have made some strides in the right direction but we’ve still got some work to do. So I’m hoping that I can help navigate that ship a little bit.”