At Canada’s McMaster University Medical Centre, work has been stopped three times since June due to allegations that workers have not been properly protected against asbestos. Workers had been upgrading the hospital’s air-handling units in parts of the building that are known to contain asbestos. Altogether, the hospital facility has 28 units that must be retrofitted. The project has been ongoing since November of 2007.
According to Labour Ministry spokesperson Bruce Skeaff, "The stop order isn’t because something was wrong," he said. "It’s because there is asbestos in the room surrounding (the unit) and because fibers may have gotten into the units because of the old equipment and parts being handled when removed."
Asbestos exposure can endanger a person’s health, as exposure to asbestos has been linked to mesothelioma and other medical conditions.
With the air systems shut down for work, patients and staff at the hospital have had to endure temperatures that were so high that two nurses fell ill from the heat last week, according to Ontario Nurses’ Association president Linda Haslam-Stroud. Ms. Haslam-Stroud has not approved of the way Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), the corporation which runs the McMaster building, has dealt with the upgrade project. "They certainly aren’t considering the people they employ in their decision-making," she said.
Hospital spokesperson Lillian Badzioch told reporters that "there has been absolutely no asbestos-related shutdowns," and patients should not fear being exposed to asbestos. According to HHS vice-president of human resources Louise Taylor Green, the hospital had to stop work in order to meet with standards under the Occupational Health and Safety Act is met.
Ironically, Canada remains one of the largest exporters of asbestos.