Six months after WorkSafeBC issued a critical report ordering the University of Victoria to better protect the health and safety of its employees, some staff on campus remain concerned about the air quality in Sedgewick building.
WorkSafe issued another report in October, highlighting UVic’s need to better respond to employee health complaints. The report says the twice-yearly local safety committee meetings are “not effective” and they fail to meet obligations as set out in the Workers Compensation Act.
“A review of the minutes from one of the local safety committee meeting shows that the issue of air quality in one building remained on the meeting minutes for many years and did not make it to the University Safety Committee,” wrote WorkSafeBC prevention officer Dawn Ianson.
That building in question is Sedgewick, built in 1969 and the source origin of multiple health complaints since 2000.
A report issued April 17, 2012 indicated UVic found high levels of mould and carbon dioxide in the Sedgewick building in December 2009, the first time the university took air quality tests and fungi samples.
While UVic took remediation steps between December 2009 and April 2012, “the area remains without adequate housekeeping and, in discussions with workers … there remains chronic health/wellness concerns,” Ianson wrote in her April report.
At the time, Ianson issued four orders that the university must comply with, including the requirement to improve the reporting system for health and safety issues to ensure each one is investigated and addressed. The most recent report, issued in October, includes an order that UVic’s local safety committees must meet at least once a month.
“There’s about 40 to 50 primarily building-based committees that were put together (years ago) to deal with local issues,” said Andy Mavretic, acting director of occupational health, safety and environment at UVic. “We’re making sure that however many of these local safety committees we have, they are all fully engaged in safety, reporting, inspections, reviewing incidents and communicating any findings and issues to the university safety committee.”
The local committees were meeting twice a year, while the overarching university joint health and safety committee met monthly.
Doug Sprenger, president of CUPE 951, says all the attention that’s been paid to health and safety at UVic over the last year has been hugely beneficial to employees.
“I think it’s helped particularly the occupational health and safety department understand they have to be more proactive with regards to safety of buildings,” he said. “I think they’re going to be doing a better job from now on. … It also kind of reinvigorated the health and safety committees – they know they also have to be more vigilant.”
Additionally, after the April report was released, CUPE requested Ianson’s orders be reviewed, in hopes that WorkSafeBC would also issue financial penalties to the university.
“(The union states) that their issue is with the delay in addressing issues in (Sedgewick), in this case eight years,” reads the decision on the review request, issued late last month. “The way that it was dealt with was unacceptable. They want a penalty levied for the exposure to workers.”
Review officer Melina Lorenz highlighted that Ianson did not issue penalties as “the violations do not meet the criteria (for imposing a penalty). (Ianson) stated that the violations did not result in a high risk of serious injury, serious illness or death,” Lorenz wrote.
She upheld Ianson’s decision and denied CUPE’s request for penalties. Mavretic says the decision not to penalize UVic was “appropriate,” as the university is attempting to address any and all concerns that are brought to their attention.
“We’re motivated to make any changes that improve our systems. Our commitment has always been and continues to be that we take those concerns seriously,” he said.
Lorenz also noted that there is new management in place at UVic – referring to Mavretic replacing director Richard Piskor, who’d been in that role since 1987, as of Sept. 1 – “and the new management appears motivated towards compliance.”
Mavretic says UVic has taken steps to address air quality in Sedgewick. The most recent tests show steps taken earlier in the year have resulted in no more mould or building moisture problems.
“The only thing that was discovered (recently) was the crawlspace was positively pressurized, meaning any of the potential stale, dry crawlspace odours might’ve come upstairs,” he said. “We just reopened the air vents along the outside walls to encourage air flow outside.”
Mavretic says the changes to the local safety committees should be implemented in the next two or three months.
To read the full reports from WorkSafeBC, visit ohs.uvic.ca/wsbcir.php.