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Old 05-08-2010, 12:53 AM
Dagwood Dagwood is offline
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Join Date: May 2010
Posts: 4
Default Workplace safety.

I would like to present my situation for any advice and feedback.
Firstly for a little background, I'm working in a profession that seems to be deteriorating and other than the odd elusive government job that seems to favor students, my company is the "only game in town".

Last week there was a fire during the night in the unit adjacent to the one in which I work. Our ventilation system sucked in smoke to such an extent that when the first employee arrived in the morning, the entire office was filled with smoke and he could not safely enter. We have back-to-back units, so he opened the doors on each end and eventually set up a fan in the middle to blow the smoke out. When the rest of us arrived approximately 2 hours later, most of the smoke was gone but there were still very heavy smoke fumes. On top of that the water was shut off by the fire dept. so we had no ability to flush the toilets.

We were still expected to work. We were told we could go home, provided we took the day off without pay, or used vacation or sick time (we only have 3 days sick leave and usually need them for appointments, etc.). One employee left after a couple of hours with nausea and a headache. I also felt nauseous and one of the managers admitted to me that he did as well. The second day the smell was still almost as bad and the back of my throat was feeling irritated. I decided that I didn't want to be in that atmosphere for a third day in a row and took the Friday off. Additionally an insurance claim was made by the company and a cleanup crew was coming in that Friday and they've been cleaning the office and ducts for all of this week.
After reading the health and safety act online it sounds as there were a number of violations:
- companies with over 5 workers (we have 5 employees and 2 managers) are supposed to have a health and safety rep and it is supposed to be this rep and not management who makes the call as whether a work environment is safe.
- companies are not permitted to apply a penalty of any kind for refusing to work in an unsafe environment. "Penalty" is not clarified, but it sounds like this would include asking employees to take the time off without pay or use benefit days as this may coerce employees to work in an unsafe situation.
- it is not legal for office environments to operate without running water.

So I cut and pasted various pertinent sections of the act and handed them to management and other employees and suggested to management that both the appointment of a safety rep and safety in general should be discussed at our next office meeting. Initially they didn't have much to say other than it was probably a good idea.

However, the next day I was called upstairs to talk with the managers. They were restrained and polite but it was quite obvious that they were annoyed. They didn't like the fact that I had passed my safety blurb out to the other employees and seemed to consider it as rabble rousing. They were also very annoyed that I included the section that listed the fines for non-compliance to safety laws. I had debated whether to include that part but considered that since many of their decisions seem driven by profit, it may not be taken seriously otherwise.

To make matters worse, while initially other employees were very much encouraging my stance on the matter as well as complaining about the smoky environment and not being covered for time off, I now get the distinct feeling that they are stepping back and possibly even siding with management. In fact I have a strong suspicion that it was a colleague who brought the fact that I passed out sections of the act, to the managements attention.

So now I'm feeling "hung out to dry". Any suggestions on any part of this scenario?
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Old 05-14-2010, 11:54 AM
Tsveta Tsveta is offline
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 1,133

In my opinion you did everything right. I would have done the same thing .... but sometimes management don't like to be reminded that they can be wrong and in your case because the company is small your colleagues are trying to be on the "safe side". This will not happen in big corporate environment but in small companies people side with the management... Too bad the management feels that way
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Old 07-26-2010, 04:15 PM
joinaunion joinaunion is offline
Junior Member
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 10

In a unsafe work condition you have the right to refuse work.There are minimum pays required dependening on where you live.
Why the management would get upset over safety rules is beyond me,it will only help them more in the end.
As far as letting them know you have that right,just be calm and collective about it not demanding,say things like "iI think we can improve here or there to make it safer".
In doing this you may be the person asked to be the health and safety rep.(no extra pay and you can refuse)
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