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Life-saving message of hope for Sarnia graduates

"...You need to ask for help and you need to speak up if you’re challenged in a situation. Don’t be silent.”
Rob Ellis and his jersey of courage.

You need to “be courageous and be strong” when it comes to workplace health and safety, according to Rob Ellis, founder and president of MySafeWork.

Ellis is the speaker at the convocation ceremony for Lambton College’s school of applied science, engineering, technology and trades on June 5 at the Progressive Auto Sales Arena.

Rob Ellis became an advocate for workplace health and safety after the death of his 18-year-old son David in 1999. 

Since then, Ellis has spread his message across North America, speaking to over 150,000 young people annually in high schools, colleges, and universities. This has included many visits to Sarnia, where he worked prior to taking on this cause.

“As a family, we wanted to try to make a difference for David’s friends and young graduates,” says Ellis. “We wanted to see if we could bridge the gap of knowledge for students graduating from their schools and wanting to know where to go next.”

His movement is working. Students, graduates and new employees are pledging to reduce unsafe work practices.

“I’ve spoken at Lambton College many times in the’s a central part of the Sarnia-Lambton economy and an outstanding educational facility for students to be drawn to from around the world,” says Ellis.

In the past month alone Ellis has spoken with 40 industry leaders across North America and looks forward to returning to Sarnia to speak with graduates of Lambton College’s school of applied science, engineering, technology and trades. “I’m honoured to be able to speak with these students and give them a little experience and knowledge of the industry leaders I interviewed.”

Although the term ‘workplace safety’ may conjure up images of hard hats and reflective jackets, Ellis is a strong proponent of making workplaces healthier for employees’ minds as much as their bodies. “We’re seeing more people who put up their hand and say they need someone to talk to.” 

“Everybody is under a lot of stress in Canada, whether you’re young or old,” he says. “When we look at car payments and mortgages, it’s stressful. You can bring that stress to work.”

Ellis will tell Lambton College’s graduates to build friendships that lead to trust and care. He also encourages young people to find a coach, whether in an office, hospital, school or on the frontline of a workplace.

He adds that “the really good companies in Sarnia offer help for those who find their stress levels are too high. But you need to ask for help and you need to speak up if you’re challenged in a situation. Don’t be silent.”

Ellis urges young people to ask questions before they start work and examine the company’s leadership and performance. “If you’re not comfortable with the leader, don’t work there. Go somewhere else.”

One of the many ways that Ellis gets ‘safety’ to stand out in the minds of his audiences is through his jerseys of courage, which are signed by those who have made a commitment to workplace safety.

“It was created a number of years ago because I went to a construction company and said to them that the paper that is nailed on the wall that is signed by the CEO indicates that it’s a safe place to work, it’s not enough. 

“It’s a commitment to stand up and make this workplace better than it was yesterday. Let’s be courageous and be strong.”

Today, there are more than a million signatures on Ellis’s jerseys hanging in workplaces across North America. Canada’s prime minister has one, and so does every premier in Canada. “More importantly, we have ordinary working people, from the plants in Sarnia to schools. It has created momentum.” 

A jersey at Lambton College serves as a constant reminder to students about the importance of safety and health.

When students graduate, as they will do on Wednesday, Ellis hopes that the message of the jersey stays with them, with his life-saving appeal, “Be courageous, be strong; you can do this.”

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