OPSEU welcomes final Ontario report on SARS outbreak

Justice Archie Campbell says hospitals are as dangerous as mines or factories


Toronto (9 Jan. 2007) – Leah Casselman, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), has welcomed the final report on the deadly 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Ontario.

In a wide-reaching report on the crisis, Justice Archie Campbell has recognized that hospitals and other health care workplaces are as dangerous as mines or factories.

Casselman says the SARS report accurately reflects the concerns of OPSEU members who were among the more than 600 health care workers interviewed by Campbell.

“Justice Campbell listened. The report reflects our concerns. We welcome the recommendations and request the McGuinty government immediately take action,” Casselman says.

Specifically, OPSEU praised the report’s recommendations that:

The precautionary principle (the principle that health workers should err on the side of caution, in the absence of scientific evidence) should be enshrined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act and other relevant legislation. Building a ‘safety culture’ is critical to making hospitals safer places. For this, more funding, training and a change of approach are needed. Optimal staffing levels for teams of occupational health and safety experts are needed. Communications failures between government and hospitals; and hospitals and workers, must be addressed.

“Workers have to stay healthy to do their jobs and protect the public. Worker health and safety is just as important in a health care workplace as in any other workplace, and this report recognizes this,” Casselman says.

“Only the dedication of our health care workers protected Ontarians from a much more terrible SARS epidemic. This report validates the need for health care workers to be protected on the job so they can do the job of protecting the public. OPSEU pledges to help implement the report and challenges the government to do likewise.”

The union represents 29,000 health care workers including hospital professionals, mental health workers, paramedics, community health, long-term care and hospital support staff.

NUPGE report on pandemic planning

The 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), which released a report last fall entitled Canadian Pandemic Planning, joined OPSEU in welcoming the final Campbell report.

"It's critical that Canadian governments do the necessary planning
to be prepared in the event of a major outbreak," union president James Clancy said at the time.

"The inclusion of front line workers and their unions in pandemic planning can only strengthen Canada's response," Clancy added. "We know from the SARS crisis that the effectiveness of any response depends largely on an ability to communicate relevant information to Canadians and workers, not just during a pandemic, but in advance of an outbreak." NUPGE

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