Use of emergency powers to side-step workplace safety standards is deeply troubling, says AFL
EDMONTON - Health and safety advocates are worried that UCP Labour Minister Jason Copping is potentially putting Albertans at risk by using his emergency powers to unilaterally amend the Occupational Health and Safety Code to allow employers to use masks that have not been properly vetted or approved.
In a letter to Minister Copping today, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan expressed grave concerns about Copping’s Ministerial Order, which was quietly released on May 3, 2020 without notice to media or consultation with stakeholders.
“We’re very worried that our province will become flooded with these potentially substandard respirators, and that they will end up being used in a myriad of private-sector work settings (everything from construction and meat-packing to manufacturing and warehousing),” wrote McGowan. “If this turns out to be the case, we feel that the government has a responsibility to share with Albertans all the evidence that it used to determine that these respirators are, in fact, safe – especially in the context of COVID-19.”
“There are reasons why the unamended Code gives approval only to respirators that meet standards set out by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),” McGowan continued. “Those reasons include transparency, confidence and scientific rigor …There is no evidence that these 'wider range' of respirators will provide adequate protection for workers, either in regular day-to-day use or, most importantly, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
When it comes to occupational health and safety legislation, McGowan pointed out that best practice has always been that changes to the rules should only be made after proper consultation and rigorous (and transparent) consideration of the evidence.
“None of that was done in this case. To put it bluntly, Minister Copping, you need to show your work. Working Albertans should not be asked to simply and meekly accept a plea from your Ministry to ‘trust us’ when the use of substandard PPE could literally result in death, that’s not acceptable.”
McGowan said he understands that we are in the midst of a public health emergency and that the government has given itself special powers to deal with that emergency. However, he says “that doesn’t mean the government should abandon best practices in health and safety, which include transparency, consultation and reliance on evidence-based decision making. What if these respirators fail and make the pandemic worse? What if you use this Order as a precedent to make other changes to the Code that weaken, rather than strengthen, workplace health and safety protections as Albertans go back to work?”
McGowan’s letter issues three demands: “First, we demand to see the evidence you used to make the changes outlined in your Order. Second, we demand that the Order be suspended until that evidence is shared with the public and working Albertans can be reassured that these masks are, in fact, safe. And, finally, we demand a meeting with you to discuss this issue at greater length. We frame this last request as a demand only because other recent requests for meetings with you have gone unanswered.”
Director of Communications, AFL