CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Keeping youth safe on the job

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun

When Sean Kells headed off to his third day on the job, his father could never have imagined the horrific accident that would claim the young man's life. But as Paul Kells emerged from a fog of grief, it became his mission to keep other young workers safe.
Sean Kells, 19, died following an industrial accident on the third day of his job.

"I've talked to many parents who've lost their children through workplace accidents. It's far more common than you think," Kells says. "Some are immobilized. I was moved to do something. Not a day goes by that I don't think of Sean and grieve for him ... I can't bear the thought of that happening to anyone else."

Sean was happy to land a job at a small industrial warehouse in Brampton in November 1994. "His employer was the father of one of his best friends," Kells says. "The first assumption was that everything was okay. It wasn't at all."

The 19-year-old was pouring a highly flammable chemical from one ungrounded drum to another when it exploded and ignited. He was not told what he was doing was dangerous and that he should be taking precautions. He died the following day from third-degree burns.

"The inquest into Sean's death woke me up," Kells says. "I was living in a fog until then. That's when I learned how preventable his death was ... We won't let our children cross the street without holding our hands until they're ready, but they go off to the workplace without any preparation."

In-school training was among the recommendations that came out of the inquest. "That became the roadmap for me to begin my work," Kells says. He went on to found the Safe Communities Foundation and the Passport to Safety program.

Since the Foundation's launch in 1996, many communities across Canada have gone through the process of becoming a Safe Community by establishing health and safety programs specifically targeted to injuries prevalent in their area.
Fog of grief

Passport to Safety is a national health and safety strategy designed to give young workers a basic understanding of what they need to know to protect themselves from injury on the job. It's goal is to help eliminate needless and preventable deaths of young workers aged 24 and under.

Almost 100 young people have died on the job over the last two years in Canada. Young workers are six times more likely to be injured on the job during the first month than any other time on the job. Yet more than two-thirds of young workers have never received a safety-training manual for their job and more than half have never received safe training for new tasks.

The Durham District School Board was one of the first school boards in Canada to pilot Passport to Safety. More than 1,000 students have earned the Passport to Safety certification. "Our schools and students ate up the program," says Gary Gibson, the board's health and safety manager.
  • Is a national safety awareness program. It tests your knowledge on health and safety issues in the workplace and allows you to track your health and safety training on an online, printable transcript.
  • Is designed to give you a basic knowledge of workplace safety so you're prepared to say no to unsafe work, to recognize hazards and to ensure your employer provides you with the training you need.
  • Does not replace job-specific health and safety training required of all employers under Canadian legislation. All employers are still required to provide the training necessary for each worker to be able to perform their job under Canadian legislation.

  • "We are partnering with local businesses so when it's time for them to hire weekend or summer employees, they check a student's resume to see if they've got the Passport to Safety certificate. As more businesses ask for it, more students will want to complete the online challenge."

    Passport to Safety issued more than 80,000 certificates to young workers by the end of 2004, reports client service co-ordinator Sarah Goodhope. In addition to online training for both teens and those over age 20, the website offers employer tools. They can assess the safety knowledge of workplace supervisors, purchase for their young workers and check to make sure they successfully completed the test.

    -- Visit Passport to Safety at and the Safe Communities Foundation at to learn more.

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