February 09, 2015

Health and safety trainer shares insight, experience

Nikki Pollo Communications Assistant, Tony Mazzocchi Center

Doug Sierakowski wears multiple hats. He is a dedicated father, husband and active with his church. As a Steelworker activist, he believes in the implementation of effective safety programs across all industries.D. Sierakowski, USW LU 2-540

Brother Sierakowski serves as the safety chairman of USW Local Union 2-540 and a worker-trainer with the USW’s Tony Mazzocchi Center. He began facilitating health and safety training to local union members in October 2013 with the determination to aid the fight to prevent workplace tragedies due to poor health and safety conditions.

Further inspiration to become a safety trainer stemmed from a more personal experience, though. Sierakowski witnessed a close friend experience a life-altering accident at work.

“Keith Omas inspired me to become a trainer. He has endured injuries at his job that should not have happened,” Sierakowski shared in an email. “The last time he was injured prevented him from being able to go to work again. My friend, my mentor, can no longer function as normal.”

Sierakowski ensured that his friend is not completely disabled, but walks with the assistance of a cane. Regardless, he urges that life-changing injuries should be prevented.

“I don’t ever want anymore of my brothers and sisters to become injured (or even killed) due to a workplace injury again. My goal is to keep it at a zero.”

Sierakowski continued to reflect on his experiences as a safety trainer in the question and answer session below.


Q: How many classes have you facilitated so far?
A: At this point, I have assisted in facilitating a hazard identification class in Canton, Ohio for two weeks. In Port Huron, Mich., I assisted in facilitating a hazard mapping class for two days. In my home local, I have facilitated a hazard mapping class two different times.

Q: Why is health, safety and environmental training significant to you?
A: The significance of HSE training is that it is like anything else in life. If you want to get better at something, you have to invest in it.

Q: What have you taken back with you after facilitating a training session?
A: One thing that I have taken back after facilitating a training session is that if you think you have it bad, all you have to do is take a look around and you’ll find that there are those out there who have it worse than you do. I have been fortunate to work in a facility that the management actually care about the safety of its employees. There are times when I question that though. But when I do, I remember the places that I have been and I can tell myself that we’re on the right road. But bigger than all this, if it wasn’t for the members holding the company’s accountable, it’s easy for the hazards to get on the back burner. No one wants to get injured.

Q: What aspects of health and safety do you stress most to the group(s) you are training?
A: I like to stress the importance of eliminating hazards before they cause an injury. I do this by sharing my story about Keith. If we can recognize the hazards in our workplace and eliminate them, someone’s life will be spared. Hazard mapping is a tool that directly addresses this process. The greatest part is that all employees, no matter what their function is, are involved in the recognition and elimination.

Q: How have your previous experiences benefitted you while training?
A: I have been working in the shop for 20 years. Fifteen of those years have been in the maintenance department. I have been directly involved in maintaining the safety of our employees for at least all of those 15 years. We had a unit president who cared specifically about safety. I was elected to his position about the same time that I got into maintenance. He liked to keep me on my toes. The company that I work for has given me the responsibility of ensuring that when we get new machinery that it is built with our safety in mind. I know I probably get under the skin of some of the management team, but that’s okay. My efforts aren’t to get anyone upset. My efforts are to keep people safe. My efforts are to ensure that everyone goes home at the end of their shift with all the body parts in tact that they came to work with. When I am training, I am able to understand questions that people have because most of the time, I have had some sort of involvement in similar situations. I have a good understanding how things work. I am able to assist in troubleshooting a way to eliminate a hazard with people. I care about people. I care about the outcome. I want to succeed. I want them to succeed. You are my brother. You are my sister.

Q: Will you describe personal experiences with previous training?
A: The most recent training that I did was hazard identification. This one was a bit of a struggle because the members were filled with the attitude that the company wasn’t going to fix the hazards anyway. But, the good thing was that even as we were conducting the training, the company was proving itself by addressing the issues that it could, right then. We were able to motivate the group, union and company, when we were able to show results.

Q: Have you faced any obstacles while training?
A: The only obstacle that I face while training is that I am not continually there to help drive the program afterward. I feel so invested when we are training, but once it is over the connection isn’t so good. I would like to be able to go back from time to time and get a progress report. Of course, this can be done through emails or phone calls, but to go and see would mean so much more. I could tell you anything I want over the phone, but can I back it up?

Q: Are you looking forward to you next training assignment?
A: Oh, there is no doubt! I love going into a new arena to bring the good news of a way to accomplish success. The USW has a unique program that seems to work. Before you can prevent an injury, you must be able to recognize the hazard that will cause it. The only problem is that there aren’t enough facilities calling to receive the training. We need to get the word out about these courses. There are too many people out there getting injured due to hazards in their workplaces. I know that there are hazards that just aren’t going to be eliminated with the “flip of a switch,” but most of the time, there are hazards that can be eliminated with very little cost or investment at all. I see these all the time. But first, we must be willing to recognize and acknowledge it.

Sierakowski maintained to continue working through obstacles and focusing on ways to continue improving his training efforts. He is excited and looking forward to the next opportunity to connect with local unions on health, safety and environmental issues.

Photo courtesy of Doug Sierakowski.

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