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Canadian activist aims big for youth safety change

Media Release
21 March, 2005

Canadian activist aims big for youth safety change

Paul Kells is a man with a mission, a mission that has seen 100,000 young Canadians pass a demanding test that gives them the knowledge to say no to unsafe work practices.

Mr Kells is head of Canada’s Safe Communities Foundation, a charitable group whose national health and safety awareness programme, Passport to Safety, aims to revolutionise the thinking of youth about workplace injuries.

Since Passport to Safety’s launch two years ago, 100,000 students have received a nationally recognised “Passport” or certificate that shows employers they have reached a basic level of health and safety awareness.

As well as giving them the confidence to insist on job-specific training and exercise their rights and responsibilities at work, the Passport to Safety can be updated online as holders add other safety-related credits such as first aid, CPR, safe boating, driving, swimming and similar courses.

Mr Kells hopes Passport to Safety will eventually become part of the curriculum in schools throughout Canada and employers are already supporting the project by asking prospective employees for their Passport to Safety documents, he said.

Mr Kells is a speaker at the ACC-hosted Bold Perspectives injury prevention and rehabilitation conference in Auckland that runs from March 21-23.

More than 30 speakers from around New Zealand and overseas are addressing questions as varied as the cost of road accidents, the effects of grief in the workplace, employee involvement in safety practices, trauma recovery and preventing falls among the elderly.

Mr Kells’ commitment to youth safety in the workplace has a deep and personal wellspring. His 19-year-old son Sean was killed in a mine explosion nine years ago.

Soon afterwards he founded the Safe Communities movement. Safe Communities now embrace a quarter of Canadians and one of those communities initiated the Passport to Safety programme.

“I hope there will eventually be a revolution in workplace health and safety and that it will be led by our children as they inspire us to do the right thing and to have the right kinds of workplaces,” Mr Kells said.

The Safe Communities Foundation was trying to effect a cultural shift in the way Canadians thought about safety, a shift that would require bridging the gulf between ideals and reality, between knowledge and action.

His goal, as he puts it, is “to save lives, reduce pain and suffering, prevent injuries, reduce our emotional and healthcare costs, enhance our quality of life and improve the economic viability of our communities and citizens”.

However, turning that bold goal into reality, requires change at the grass-roots level, a widespread commitment by individuals to do things differently - not occasionally but every day of their lives.

“We will not close the gap until we see a widely held change of personal will at the grass-roots level. But having said that, the only thing that changes the world is when one person acts to make a difference: to a child, a family member, a co-worker or a friend,” Mr Kells said.


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