Category Archives: Occupational Hygiene

Union calls out province after jail riot sends officer to hospital

NORTH BAY, Ont. – Following an Aug. 12 riot at the North Bay Jail, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is demanding that the province’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services take immediate action to protect both inmates and employees from violence. According to a press release from the union, the riot began early that evening and lasted about nine hours, during which a correctional officer was attacked with human excrement and had to be sent to the hospital. There was also extensive damage to one of the units, as well as broken windows in areas where inmates are not permitted access. OPSEU stated in the release that the Ministry needs to spend more to treat inmates’ mental-health issues and replace older correctional facilities like the North Bay Jail, which dates from the 1930s, in order to prevent similar incidents. “What took place at the jail is the result of the lack of attention to inmates with mental-health problems,” OPSEU Local 616 president Steven White said in a media statement. “They should be receiving separate treatment, but we have only four segregation cells because the building is so old.” The union cited another incident in Thunder Bay in Dec. 2015, when a prison riot hospitalized several correctional officers and forced others to undergo treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Union warns hospital employees to keep safe from wildfire smoke

BURNABY, B.C. – The union representing nearly 50,000 healthcare workers in British Columbia has cautioned its members about the risks of smoke from the province’s ongoing wildfires. An Aug. 4 news release from the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) commended the workers for their dedication to the job during the provincial state of emergency, but warned that they could be at risk from wildfire smoke. The union advised its members in the release to stay indoors as much as possible, keep hospital windows closed so that air scrubbers and filters could function properly, minimize strenuous activity, stay hydrated and follow local advisories for updates. “We thank each and every [member] for their extraordinary generosity and dedication in the face of this ongoing disaster,” HEU secretary and business manager Jennifer Whiteside said in a media statement. “So many members – many who are experiencing their own losses and displacements – have stepped up to help meet the needs of displaced patients and residents.” WorkSafeBC issued a similar advisory to employers in all industries in July (COHSN, Aug. 1).

Military sexual-misconduct call centre increases hours

FEDERAL – The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has extended the hours of its Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) in Ottawa to 24 hours a day, every day of the year, according to a July 24 news release from the federal Department of National Defence (DND). The SMRC has also hired new counsellors to fill the new hours, with a total of eight counsellors now available to speak with CAF members who have dealt with inappropriate sexual behaviour. The counsellors are civilians with degrees in counselling, social work or psychology and experience with the military and/or assisting with mental-health trauma, the release noted. “I am pleased that the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre is now in a position to provide this needed service to Canadian Armed Forces members anywhere in the world and at any time,” DND Deputy Minister John Forster said in a press statement. Founded in 2015, the SMRC provides telephone and e-mail support for military victims of sexual harassment and assault.

Alberta healthcare workers are poorly protected from dangerous meds: AUPE

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) has filed five occupational health and safety complaints with the provincial government regarding worker exposure to cytotoxic medications – which potentially cause effects ranging from skin and eye irritation to cancer.

The union stated in a July 17 news release that the complaints had stemmed from exposure incidents in Edmonton, Westlock, Cold Lake and Vegreville and that reports of exposure from AUPE members continued to trickle in every day. Cytotoxic medications are primarily used in chemotherapy, although medical professionals also use them to treat rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis.

The employees “were handling the medication without proper personal protective equipment, and then there were some in there trying to link it back to health concerns as well,” explained AUPE oh&s representative Trevor Hansen, “after, of course, we noted some of the acute and the chronic illnesses that could be associated with cytotoxics.”

The medications have also been linked to vital organ damage and pregnancy-related health issues like birth defects, according to the union.

“At the time when we launched our campaign,” said Hansen, referring to the union’s actions to raise public awareness of the drugs’ hazards, “we had about 100 concerns from various healthcare workers across the province in regards to cytotoxic medication.” Since the launch, AUPE has received “an additional 30 to 40 complaints from our membership.”

Todd Gilchrist, vice president of people, legal and privacy for Alberta Health Services (AHS), said in a media statement that AUPE members had made the employer aware of the exposure incidents upon their occurrences in April and June.

“AHS Workplace Health and Safety conducted a health and safety investigation to determine the level of exposure and potential risk,” said Gilchrist. “After speaking with each employee and reviewing their individual actions and relevant safety protocols, it was determined that there had been no exposure that could cause harm. This was communicated back to employees and their labour representatives.

“We have no reason to believe that harmful exposures have occurred or that any staff member has experienced adverse health effects from exposure to cytotoxic medications. Although no employees reported any illness or health effects, Workplace Health and Safety occupational health nurses reached out to affected staff to hear their concerns and answer any questions.”

But Hansen said that there was a “lack of awareness” about the side effects of cytotoxic medications in the industry.

“Nursing staff, they hear the words ‘cytotoxic medication’, they link it back to how it affects patients,” said Hansen. “We’re finding the culture in healthcare, it’s very patient-focused as to how it affects patients and clients. A lot of nursing staff don’t actually take the effects as to how it’s going to affect them as a worker.”

In addition, workers in facility maintenance and food services often know nothing about cytotoxic medications or the risks of exposure. “We’re finding the employers that have practices in place sporadically throughout the province. It’s not consistent.”

AUPE recommends that healthcare workers wear special chemotherapy gloves and non-impermeable gowns, as well as respirators and eye protection, to prevent exposure.

“That would extend into both our auxiliary nursing group, who are the nurses that would be preparing and administering the drugs,” said Hansen about the union’s recommendations. “We’re advising our general support staff to take similar precautions.”

Gilchrist said that AHS has safety policies, procedures, education and training to deal with the hazards of exposure to cytotoxic medications. “We will continue to work with staff and unions to ensure the continued health, safety and wellness of all AHS employees,” he said.

“The health and safety of staff is our top priority. We continue to take steps to ensure their ongoing health, safety and wellness.”

Canada Post employees claim carbon-monoxide exposure from trucks

Canada’s national mail service has responded to recent claims from employees that aging postal trucks have been leaking carbon monoxide (CO) inside the cabs in the Ottawa area.

The issue became public with a CBC News story posted online on July 12. The story quoted Julie Stewart, a Canada Post deliverer in Kemptville, Ont., and Smiths Falls mail worker Diana Bayer, both of whom claimed that workers were being poisoned by CO coming through their trucks’ exhaust.

The article also stated that some Canada Post workers had begun carrying gas detectors while on their delivery routes. Stewart reportedly had to go to the hospital twice earlier this year because of drowsiness and chest pains.

In an e-mailed response to COHSN, Canada Post stated that it has processes for equipment and vehicle maintenance and that employees are welcome to identify and report any issues.

“We have taken the concerns brought forward by the two employees in Kemptville and Smiths Falls seriously and have taken action,” the organization wrote.

“The vehicles were pulled from service, and extensive testing was conducted, including on-the-road delivery conditions to investigate. Maintenance, as well as a health and safety rep, were involved. We have informed the employees that no evidence was found to support their claims.”

Mail vehicles are inspected and maintained on a regular basis, depending upon elapsed calendar days and elapsed kilometres travelled, Canada Post said. A multipoint inspection and any necessary maintenance are required before a truck returns to service.

“As part of their regular duties, employees are expected to complete a daily vehicle inspection to help detect any issues or potential issues that would require testing or servicing outside of the regular schedule,” the organization added.

“In addition to our regular maintenance program, if a potential safety issue is identified, we will pull the vehicle off the road for testing. We also have a joint approach with the unions – at the local and national level – to review any potential safety concerns.”

But the CBC story quoted Stewart as saying that supervisors had done nothing about the alleged CO problem for many mail workers. It also cited a case in which a Brockville worker had supposedly measured a CO reading of 49 parts per million inside her truck’s cab, using her own CO tester. In the latter case, the employee’s supervisors replaced the exhaust system inside the vehicle and solved the problem, she said.

The problem has reportedly occurred inside Grumman LLV trucks, which have been out of production since 1994. Canada Post signed a deal with Ford to replace them in 2010, according to the CBC, but some workers are still driving Grumman trucks more than 20 years old while on the job.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment before press time.

A Crown corporation, the Canada Post Corporation employs about 64,000 workers nationwide, including around 25,000 mail carriers delivering to nearly 16 million addresses, according to the organization’s 2015 annual report.

Feds lower limit of exposure to airborne chrysotile asbestos

The Government of Canada furthered its efforts to ban asbestos across the country on July 12, when it announced that it was lowering the acceptable level of workplace exposure to airborne chrysotile asbestos to as close to zero as possible.

The move was effective immediately, according to a news release from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Patty Hajdu, the federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, announced in Gatineau, Que. that the lower threshold would minimize the risk of workers contacting airborne asbestos fibres and align Canada’s national standard with those of individual provinces and territories. The new limit is also more consistent with international standards.

“Every employee has the right to a safe workplace,” said Hajdu, as quoted in the release. “I’m proud to be announcing these long-overdue regulatory changes on asbestos, a key element of our government’s comprehensive ban.”

Federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan said in a press statement that protecting Canadians’ health and safety “is of utmost importance” to the Justin Trudeau government.

“Canadians can be confident my colleagues and I will continue to work hard to ensure that families, workers and communities will be protected from the harmful impacts of asbestos exposure,” added Duncan, “so they may lead healthy, secure lives.”

The move is part of the federal government’s ongoing strategy to ban all asbestos and asbestos-containing products by next year. Canada’s occupational health and safety law regulations require exposure to airborne asbestos to follow the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists Threshold Limit Values at 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre, according to a backgrounder on the ESDC website.

Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, whose organization has been lobbying for a complete asbestos ban for some time, told COHSN that the lower threshold was a move “in the right direction” that would “send a clear message” that the carcinogenic mineral should not be used.

“We welcome the action of the government,” said Yussuff. “There’s always going to be argument on what level of threshold is acceptable for workers to be exposed, and we believe no amount of asbestos fibres is safe. So lowering the threshold certainly brings us one step closer to the inevitable situation that the government already announced, a complete ban of both import and export of asbestos.”

Yussuff added that there is still a lot more work to do, including bringing all provincial asbestos-exposure standards into line and creating registries of buildings that still contain the mineral. “We’ve got some distance to go,” he said.

“I also believe that we need a national registry for workers that are dying from asbestos-related disease in this country,” explained Yussuff, “to give us, really, an account as to how many people are affected by the substance, yet decades after the worker may have been exposed to it.”

ESDC announced its strategy on a nationwide asbestos ban last Dec. 15. In addition to the new occupational exposure limit, the strategy consists of regulating the handling, removal, repair and disturbance of asbestos-containing material to minimize worker exposure. Previously, Public Services and Procurement Canada had already banned the use of asbestos in all new federal construction and renovation projects (COHSN, April 12, 2016).

“It moves us one step closer, of course, to try to make this country a safer place for workers who work in industry,” Yussuff said about the lowered threshold.

Another military member charged with sexually assaulting colleague

WAINWRIGHT, Alta. – The Canadian Forces (CF) National Investigation Service has charged one of the Forces’ corporals with sexual assault, regarding an incident that allegedly occurred at the CF’s Wainwright base ten years ago. A news release from the Department of National Defence identified the charged party as Cpl. Regis Tremblay, who is accused of assaulting another CF member at the base in 2007; on July 13 of this year, he was charged with violating Section 271 of the federal Criminal Code, which is punishable under Section 130 of the National Defence Act. “This charge reflects the effectiveness of our approach and ongoing commitment to support victims and defend against harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Canadian Armed Forces,” National Investigation Service commanding officer Lt.-Col. Francis Bolduc said in a media statement. The case is now with the military justice system, with the date and location of the court martial still to be determined, the release added.

MLA urges inquiry into David Fifi death at Vale’s Thompson smelter

WINNIPEG, Man. – The provincial Liberal party of Manitoba is demanding an investigation into the Nov. 2008 death of David Fifi, a 52-year-old boilermaker who worked at the Vale smelter in Thompson. Jon Gerrard, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for River Heights, brought up the case in the province’s legislature on May 31. Although the cause of Fifi’s death was deemed to be a heart attack, his widow strongly believes that he and other workers were exposed to toxic gases at the smelter (COHSN, May 23). “On behalf of David Fifi’s widow and other employees who many [sic] have been exposed to a toxic, unsafe workplace, Manitoba Liberals urge the government to open a full inquiry,” stated a press release from the party, “to see if the concerns raised and the allegations of a cover-up have merit and to make recommendations with regard to future protection of workers.” The release added that there is evidence that “both the company and NDP government were aware of the leaks, but did nothing to stop the exposures or protect the workers and allowed them to continue operating, knowing full well how dangerous it was.” Vale Canada announced on May 16 that it will close its Thompson nickel-mining operations this autumn.

Former miner whose illness led to anti-McIntyre Powder campaign passes away

ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. – Jim Hobbs, a retired nickel and uranium miner who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2001, died on May 24 at the age of 76. An online obituary from the Elliot Lake Funeral Chapel & Cremation Centre stated that Hobbs had passed away at the Espanola Nursing Home after having “faced his illness with dignity, a positive attitude and strength.” Hobbs’ daughter, Janice Martell, believed that his illness had resulted from McIntyre Powder, a type of aluminum dust that miners once inhaled on the job, as employers believed it would protect workers from silicosis; this led Martell to found the McIntyre Powder Project in 2015. The Project includes a voluntary registry of information on miners who had inhaled McIntyre Powder on the job and documents their health issues. Hobbs left behind his wife, Elaine Burns, four children including Martell, 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, according to the obituary. Hobbs’ funeral and reception are scheduled for the morning of June 3 at the Massey Arena in Massey, Ont.

City releases report on former deputy mayor accused of harassment

Following the recent resignation of deputy mayor Michael Di Biase, the City of Vaughan, Ont. has released the investigation report on accusations that Di Biase sexually harassed a colleague on numerous occasions.

Di Biase resigned from his position on May 18. The report, authored by City integrity commissioner Suzanne Craig and posted online on May 23, concluded that Di Biase had breached Rule 14 of the City’s Code of Ethical Conduct, which prohibits sexual harassment, but did not have “conclusive evidence” that he had undertaken an act of reprisal against the accuser.

The complainant, who was not named in the report, has alleged that Di Biase groped and kissed her without her consent, touched her inappropriately and pushed himself against her beginning in March 2016. Craig received a complaint from the accuser’s legal counsel on Jan. 17 of this year.

Craig also investigated whether Di Biase had orchestrated “surveillance” of the complainant as part of reprisal against her accusations, but could not come to a firm conclusion on this issue.

In an e-mailed response to COHSN, the City of Vaughan stated that Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua had called two meetings on May 23 regarding the Di Biase issue. “Vaughan Council fully supports the Integrity Commissioner’s report,” the City wrote, adding that the city council had “voted unanimously to condemn and denounce any and all actions or behaviours that constitute sexual harassment and is committed to its continued support of the City’s Respectful Workplace Policy.”

Bevilacqua said in a media statement that he found the contents of Craig’s report to be “gravely concerning.”

The City, he added, “takes this matter very seriously and condemns all acts of workplace harassment and reprisal of any kind. Without exception, anyone who works for the City of Vaughan should be treated fairly in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and reprisal.”

Local media reports have stated that Di Biase is entitled to two years’ worth of severance pay, as well as another $30,440 from York Region for his time served as a councillor. But the City stated that he had not received any severance pay as of May 29. “The City of Vaughan has a bylaw that outlines the conditions in place with respect to a Member of Council receiving severance.”

Toronto civil litigator Andrew Pinto, a partner with Pinto Wray James LLP who is representing the complainant, said that his client had not yet filed a sexual-assault complaint with the police against Di Biase. “We’ve advised our client of her options to do so,” he said.

Pinto elaborated on the difference in standards between a workplace investigation, such as Craig’s, and a criminal case of sexual assault – in which “the state would have to, obviously, prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt for there to be a conviction.” In the City of Vaughan probe, “Mr. Di Biase’s case was based on a balance of probabilities,” he said, “which means just determining whether it’s more likely or not that the allegations were true.”

As with any other large employers, he added, municipal governments are “not immune in any way from these types of incidents happening.”

In a separate statement about Di Biase’s resignation, Bevilacqua noted that the City had a responsibility to champion accountability, transparency and respect.

“As we move forward, we will continue to advance a culture of excellence in governance rooted in integrity,” he said.

“The City of Vaughan takes pride in providing a healthy and safe environment, and the recent incident was an isolated one,” wrote the City in the e-mail. “The City continuously strives to ensure its policies and programs are effective in protecting all employees in the workplace.”

Located north of Toronto, Vaughan is the fifth-largest city in the Greater Toronto Area and the 17th-largest in Canada.