Labour Board Appeal
The union has been successful in our OHS appeal to the Labour Board, and an order has now been made that the employer must conduct a detailed survey about air quality issues in the New Glasgow NSH Public Health & Addictions Office.
This has been a long-standing issue for the union, spanning more than a decade, since our members were moved into the new office building in 2010. Shortly after moving into this new building, staff began getting sick, and had to be moved out of the office. Staff continued to report feeling sick in the building, with mainly respiratory symptoms. NSGEU OHS Officer Paul Cormier and staff were successful in having assessments conducted and some improvements made, but ultimately, there were some members who were still reporting symptoms.
As a result, the union continued to pursue an in-depth, expert assessment of ongoing air quality issues effecting employees working in the building.
Subsequently, an OHS Officer with the OHS Division of the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration conducted inspections on October 8 and November 17, 2020 and reviewed the long history of air quality complaints related to the building. He submitted a report that dealt primarily with ongoing complaints of health and physical comfort issues that appeared related to air quality, but ultimately chose only to make recommendations to the NSH to deal with deficiencies concerning airborne contaminants and the general ventilation system in the building.
The NSGEU’s position has been that these recommendations should have been issued as orders so that they could be enforced pursuant to sections 55, 57 and other relevant provisions of the Occupational Health & Safety Act.
Therefore, the union appealed the decision of the Officer not to issue orders against NSH, and maintained that the NSH is not complying with its duty to take every precaution that is reasonable in the circumstances to ensure the health and safety of its employees working in the building, contrary to section 13 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The NSGEU asked the Labour Board to issue orders that are enforceable under the Act in place of the recommendations made by the Officer and his Report of Workplace Inspection and to make whatever additional orders it considers appropriate upon the hearing of this appeal.
Ultimately, our appeal has been upheld, in part.
While finding that the officer’s decision to issue recommendations was reasonable at the time it was made, the Vice-Chair found that evidence that has been generated since that time shows the need for an in-depth, expert assessment of the problem. He has ordered that within six months of the building returning to full occupancy following COVID the employer is to conduct a detailed survey about the air quality issues employees are experiencing and then retain an expert to conduct an in-depth, on-site review of the building ventilation system as it is actually being operated, something NSH has never done.
This was our main objective in the appeal and the union and the affected members should be well satisfied by the outcome. The Vice-Chair was quite complimentary about the contribution of the union witnesses who testified. Thank you to these members in particular for their ongoing advocacy and tenacity.
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