Civil Service: Workplace Health and Safety

Dear members working in the Civil Service,

Thank you for all you are doing to provide important public services throughout this pandemic. This wave is especially alarming and has hit us hard after a long period of low exposure numbers. It is a concerning time and we appreciate you may be very apprehensive about working in this new reality.

For many of you, you have been given the approval to work from home but this has not been the case for everyone. The spike in COVID-19 numbers along with the more contagious variants is a reality many of you are working with every day.

You have the right to work in a safe workplace and your Employer must do their best to continuously improve workplace safety. This very much starts with you “on the frontlines.” It is important that you survey your workplace and identify any hazards to your supervisor.

This virus is an OHS hazard and there are measures you can take personally to protect yourself including wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition to PPE, there are safety protocols that could be put in place regarding distancing at work; adequate ventilation at work, etc. These will be different in every workplace. For example, if you work in an environment in which you cannot socially distance, you may need N-95 masks, protective goggles, and gloves to work safely.

Specific OHS protections and protocols should be in place for working with COVID-19 through your Health & Safety Committee. If they haven’t been put in place, they should be put in place right away. Questions about proper PPE and safety protocols should be revisited in light of these more contagious variants.

If you feel unsafe at work and your concerns are not addressed by your supervisor, you have the right to refuse work. This is a formal process we can help you through if you need support. If you refuse unsafe work, it can trigger an investigation by the Department of Labour. These investigations can result in improved health & safety for all members but they do take time.

As exposures rise and employees are required to isolate, the Employer has been surveying the membership for volunteers to fill gaps in a variety of positions. If you are asked to volunteer in other regions or Departments, you have the right to ask about your working conditions and any OHS measures taken by the Employer before you make a decision. For example, if you are being asked to work in a youth centre, you can ask about what PPE they are providing, about their cleaning protocols, and about protocols with regard to COVID positive cases amongst the youth in care. These are all reasonable questions. You can cc your Employee Relations Officer, if you would like, and let your employer know the Union has recommended you ask questions before taking any position. Note: If a worker has exercised their right to refuse unsafe work, the Employer must tell you this before offering the position to you.

If you have any questions about your Occupational Health & Safety, or need support through your ‘right to refuse’, please contact the NSGEU.

Again, thank you for all you are doing at this time.

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