Employees refuse to continue work in Pleasantville building

Published on January 22, 2013
Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees. - Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Six workers at the Rowan Centre and two workers at the Methadone Clinic — situated in Building 532 at Pleasantville in St. John’s — refused to continue to work in the building Monday afternoon citing health concerns.

Workers have, in the past, complained about rashes and odours likely from creosote used as a wood preservative when the building was constructed more than 50 years ago.

The workers, members of the Newfoundland Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), exercised their right to refuse work under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, NAPE stated in a news release.

The release also states that Eastern Health ordered the workers to report to work, and that the workers are currently waiting for the Eastern Health Occupational Health and Safety committee to report their refusals to Service NL’s Occupational Health and Safety Division.

“It’s unfortunate that staff felt they had to resort to this measure,” NAPE President Carol Furlong said. “They expressed their concerns to management on a number of occasions but Eastern Health refused to relocate them to another building. They were left with little choice.”

In December, Eastern Health moved services normally provided by the Recovery Centre at Building 532 to the Waterford Hospital as a precautionary measure while air quality testing was carried out at Building 532 to test for levels of creosote vapour in the building.

Several employees working at the Recovery Centre had developed rashes from an unknown origin, which prompted Eastern Health to launch an Occupational Health and Safety inspection in November conducted by an industrial hygienist with Service NL. It was concluded there was a possibility that exposure to low levels of creosote vapour may be responsible for the rashes.

Eastern Health first discovered possible exposure to creosote vapour in Building 532 in 2007 after employees reported an odour.

Air quality testing in 2008 and 2009 indicated levels of creosote vapour below the minimal acceptable level for people working out of the building.

The NAPE release says that Eastern Health stated in a December 2012 press release that there was no creosote in the newer parts of Building 532 where the Rowan Centre and the Methadone Clinic are situated.

“However, while the newer section of the building may not have creosote in the structure there are creosote vapours in Rowan Centre. Air quality testing in 2009 confirmed this,” Furlong said. “Eastern Health is doing more testing now and it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that there is creosote in the air these employees are breathing. Creosote is a carcinogen. Research indicates that there is no such thing as a safe level of a carcinogen.”

Section 45 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act allows workers to refuse work which they have reasonable grounds to believe is dangerous to his or her health or safety or the health or safety of other persons in the workplace.