Cleaning & Restoration Breaking News

Hospital cleaners fail again

April 17, 2009
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NANAIMO, BC – April 16, 2009 (Daily News) -- Housekeeping staff at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital have experienced hair loss and respiratory irritation because of a toxic chemical used to eliminate the spread of Clostridium difficile, according to a scathing health and safety inspection by WorkSafe B.C.

The workplace watchdog issued five different orders against Compass Group Canada, the housekeeping contractor at the hospital, in its followup inspection last month. The report indicates that Compass did not provide adequate training for its health and safety committee members, including one manager who had been in the position for 10 months.

Employees do not have access to protective gear when using corrosive chemicals and air ventilation systems are inadequate, according to the inspector's report, issued on April 8.

The five orders issued to the contractor echo concerns from hospital housekeeping employees who gave their union a strike mandate in order to entice Compass negotiators back to the bargaining table.

Union representatives said the latest orders highlight the need for the Vancouver Island Health Authority to take responsibility for the health and safety record of its contractor.

"I think that it's more important than ever that VIHA look seriously at their responsibility for the service of their employer," said Olive Dempsey, HEU communications officer. "It's absurd that they are not taking responsibility for this."

Representatives from Compass did not return requests for an interview, but health authority officials said the company's reputation will affect current negotiations to extend the contract with Compass for another five years.

"Any of the issues we may have, whether it's scores on housekeeping audits or the WorkSafe B.C. orders, all those things come into play," said Joe Murphy, vice-president of VIHA's operations and support services.

Employees have suffered from nose inflammation, respiratory problems, skin irritation, fatigue and hair loss when working with Virox 5, the toxic chemical used to eliminate the spread of C. difficile, which has infected more than 100 people and killed three others since April 2008.

Employees also do not have access to protective equipment, such as respirators, goggles, chemical gloves and boots.

Some also lack appropriate training when using, cleaning and maintaining the equipment, according to the document.

Cleaning carts also lacked portable eyewash stations in areas where housekeepers use "high-risk" corrosive chemicals.

WorkSafe B.C. found that one manager did not investigate the cause of a chemical accident and discovered that Compass failed to include worker representatives in accident investigations.

Union representatives were alarmed by the reports, according to Dempsey.

"It says a couple things.

"It says that this is incredibly dangerous work and it reinforces the need to have rigorous health and safety protocols in place."

The inspector explained that there is no night supervisor and that some employees were mixing an abrasive tub and toilet cleanser with Virox, which "would cause a potentially harmful chemical reaction." Workers were also sharing respirators and did not have the proper forms to explain the findings of incident investigations.

The report highlights the lack of proper equipment. No goggles could be found on the third floor, workers were using latex gloves instead of chemical gloves and boots were not provided for cleaning up floods or plugged toilets.

Ventilation in the janitorial rooms on each floor are "poor at best."

The inspection was a followup to last year when WorkSafe B.C. issued 16 separate orders against Compass over six months. Inspectors issued nine of those orders to NRGH and another seven to the same employer at other health facilities on Vancouver Island.

Some of the issues had been addressed, according to the followup report, but inspectors found enough hazards to order a "worker survey" and a full investigation into the lack of protective equipment and the use of Virox 5.

Compass must also solve respiratory and skin issues and improve ventilation.

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