University of Toronto Unions criticize Asbestos Review Panel following 2017 incidents

Toronto, Ontario, CANADA


TORONTO, April 18, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today (April 18) at 11:00 a.m., representatives from Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902 (C.U.P.E. 3902), United Steelworkers Local 1998 (U.S.W. 1998) and the University of Toronto Faculty Association (U.T.F.A.) will hold a media conference to respond to the ongoing asbestos management program at the University of Toronto.

Following a lengthy delay, the University of Toronto’s (U of T) panel reviewing its asbestos management program released its Asbestos Panel Review Report late last month, along with a response from senior U of T administrators. This Panel was set up after findings that best practices for asbestos abatement has not been followed during renovations at the University’s Medical Sciences Building in December 2016-March 2017.

“It is clear that the University of Toronto administrative leadership fell short in its management of asbestos removal on campus,” said Terezia Zoric, Vice-President with U.T.F.A. “As a first step to demonstrate that they are committed to addressing the serious health dangers posed by the presence and mishandling of asbestos, the University must act on the recommendations provided by their own Review Panel,” she continued.

The full report, along with the University of Toronto’s response, is available here: https://ehs.utoronto.ca/asbestos-panel-review-report/.

Canadian Union of Public Employees (C.U.P.E.) Local 3902 has had concerns about the Panel since its inception. “The Panel’s engagement with workers and students has been exceptionally limited; C.U.P.E. 3902 was allowed only 40 minutes to present its concerns to the Panel and was given very short notice to prepare its comments,” explained Jess Taylor, Chair at C.U.P.E. 3902.

The Panel’s terms of reference limited it to a broad overview of the University’s Asbestos Management Program without inquiring into the incidents at the Medical Sciences Building in any detail.

Taylor continued explaining the Unions’ concerns, “It’s essential that Health and Safety issues are handled with transparency and incorporate the concerns of all people accessing the space. In this case, students were almost completely excluded from the process and there is no evidence that the Panel to Review the Asbestos Management Program at the University of Toronto took any of the feedback given by unions and organizations on campus into consideration.”

In addition, the University's current abatement procedures ignore best practices worldwide and instead focus on legislative minimum. Overall, neither the final report, nor the response released by the University of Toronto, adequately addresses the concerns raised by unions, faculty, and student organizations regarding the health concerns of workers and students in the Medical Sciences Building or the processes and practices of asbestos abatement on University of Toronto campuses.

Mark Austin, Health and Safety officer with U.S.W. 1998, felt the University has missed the target with the way the Panel operated. “The Panel missed an opportunity to use the asbestos exposure incident in the Medical Sciences building as a case study to find out if the communication breakdown after the exposure was a due to inadequate policies or was a result of policies not being followed,” he said. “As a result of the limited scope of the Panel, the U of T community still has many unanswered questions about what happened at Medical Sciences and who was ultimately responsible for what happened,” finished Austin.

Taylor finished by noting that none of the stakeholders feel heard throughout the process. “Overall, neither the final report, nor the response released by the University of Toronto, adequately addresses the concerns raised by unions, faculty, and student organizations regarding the health concerns of workers and students in the Medical Sciences Building or the processes and practices of asbestos abatement on University of Toronto campuses,” she concluded.

Contacts:
Jess Taylor
Chair, CUPE 3902
416-593-7057

Hamish Russell
Internal Liaison Officer, CUPE 3902
416-593-7057

Tiffany Balducci
CUPE 3902 Staff
416-593-7057