Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) is once again offering cash scholarships to graduating high school students heading for post-secondary education this fall.
After a two-year hiatus forced by the pandemic, these scholarships and the fundraiser* that supports them are back. As in past years, students entering the 20th edition of the WHSC Student Scholarship Contest are asked to write an essay exploring a current occupational health and safety issue.
COVID-19 theme for this year’s essay contest
This year’s topic is particularly relevant asking them to consider: “A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted workers, their families, and communities. Explain how it has affected you and yours, the lessons you learned and how you will draw on these lessons to contribute to safer, healthier work and communities in future.”
The scholarship contest is open to Ontario high school students entering full-time or part-time studies at a publicly funded Ontario post-secondary institution.
“The ongoing COVID crisis has exposed what many workers have long experienced,” explains Andrew Mudge, WHSC executive director. “Workplace hazards left unaddressed, including the virus and its variants, cost them dearly in terms of their health and livelihood.”
While the suffering has been far-reaching, it is impacting certain occupations and communities far more than others. Research evidence continues to document the excessive burden on frontline, racialized and low-income workers in terms of higher rates of COVID-19 infection.
Research evidence and the experiences of many also suggest workplaces were ill-prepared and vulnerable workers were poorly protected, particularly during the first wave of the pandemic. Many would argue the same can be said of the wider public health response. And with a new wave upon us, we are not out of the woods yet. In fact, with the recent lifting of mandatory public health measures including mask and vaccine mandates in many workplaces and community settings, the Ontario Science Table and Public Health Ontario tell us we are now seeing escalating case counts and hospitalizations directly related to this decision.
Beyond the actual COVID virus and its variants, many other hazards and issues have been intensified by the ongoing pandemic including violence, harassment, long hours, and inadequate personal protective equipment including masks and respirators. These and other stressors are taking a toll on the mental health of many workers and others in our communities.
Training key to workplace prevention
Many are calling on employers and public health to better protect vulnerable workers and communities now and in a post-pandemic world.
A critical step, says Mudge, is for “Employers to act upon their significant obligations to protect workers, including the provision of effective training so workers, their representatives and other workplace parties are better prepared to participate in workplace prevention efforts in a meaningful way. As we have seen throughout the pandemic and even prior without access to quality training and information, many fall victim to information passing as training and often misinformation at that.”
Scholarships in memory of WHSC leaders
In addition to the requirement to submit an essay, those participating in the 2022 WHSC Student Scholarship Contest must share something of their contributions to the quality of life in their school and community, both in their own words and in a letter of recommendation from a teacher, other educator or representative of a community organization.
Top submissions will be awarded scholarships to support their post-secondary education. Among these awards are two scholarships of $2,000 each. WHSC has created them to honour the memory of WHSC founder, Clifford Pilkey and long-serving WHSC board member, Fred Upshaw.
Clifford Pilkey was elected president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) in 1976 serving until his retirement in 1986. As OFL president, he used his considerable talents, influence and credibility to convince the government to fund a central worker health and safety training project that would eventually become the WHSC. He served as president of the WHSC Board from 1985 to 2000 and president emeritus from 2000 to 2009.
Fred Upshaw was elected president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) in 1990, becoming the first African-Canadian to lead a major labour union in Canada. Under his watch as president, OPSEU implemented a significant social justice agenda. In 1992, Fred joined the WHSC Board of Directors, eventually participating on the finance and executive committees.
In addition to the two memorial scholarships, up to three additional scholarships of $1,000 will be awarded to students whose submissions merit recognition.
Submissions are due no later than Thursday, July 14, 2022, 4:00 pm. Those responding should read the scholarship rules and application forms very carefully.
Winners will be announced in fall 2022 through various WHSC media platforms and e-news publication. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe today.
*Please note: No portion of WHSC revenues or government grants support this scholarship contest. WHSC contributions to this important occupational health and safety awareness and post-secondary education initiative is financed solely through funds raised at the Clifford Pilkey Memorial Golf Fundraiser.
For more than 35 years, WHSC training has delivered hazard-based, prevention-focused training to workplaces in all sectors of the economy. Further, WHSC offers an extensive collection of information resources including a number aimed at students and other new and young workers.
To learn more about WHSC:
Call: WHSC training services representative in your area