Worried by serious occupational health and safety shortcomings, all union organizations in the Quebec health and social services sector are issuing in unison a clear call to the government: it is imperative that the current situation be rectified in anticipation of the second wave of COVID-19. Under the best case scenario, there is no more than three months left for these preparations to be made. These shortcomings, which were acute prior to the pandemic, explain to a great extent Quebec’s somber record in terms of contaminations, deaths and work stoppages.
The unions point out that Quebec will absolutely have to avoid a new series of contaminations and work stoppages affecting personnel, who have already been seriously weakened by the repercussions of the first wave. Although the government is keeping some figures confidential, data obtained in the field suggest that difficult situations persist in some institutions or some regions.
The first phase of the COVID-19 crisis was a failure, aside from claiming the lives of six workers in the health and social services system, it highlighted prevention shortcomings in workplaces, as witnessed by the 5000 workers who were infected. That is why union organizations are making the following demands:
- Reliable data is needed on the number of employees affected per institution, mission, department, activity centre and job title to better plan the available resources.
- An accurate picture is needed on the status of protective personal equipment (PPE) inventories to ensure an adequate supply and the highest level of protection for personnel in the system.
- Means must be provided to do prevention in the field to limit the number of infections.
- The four prevention mechanisms spelled out in the Act respecting occupational health and safety must be implemented in full, on an urgent basis and in all of the institutions in the system, starting with the identification of a prevention representative. This should be followed by the implementation of prevention programs, health programs and health and safety committees.
“Prevention in the area of occupational health and safety is lacking within the system, and nothing has ever illustrated this better than the pandemic. We must turn things around and give ourselves the means to protect personnel in anticipation of the second wave. And to do this, the government must do what has to be done to identify a prevention representative in each facility. This person must have the necessary authority to get prevention up and running as soon as possible,” explained Jeff Begley, President of the Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux (FSSS-CSN).
“Right from the start of the pandemic, it was noted that the recommendations of the INSPQ were guided by the low inventories of personal protective equipment. Quebec went into this crisis ill-prepared and poorly equipped, with a health-care system running on fumes. The Legault government has refused to gives us correct information on inventories of available PPE, and several residences and CHSLDs did not have sufficient supplies. The lack of prevention placed health-care personnel at risk. We won’t accept this for a second wave!,” warned Linda Lapointe, Vice-President of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec–FIQ.
“With the crisis approaching the three-month mark, it’s unacceptable that we still have not managed to get a clear picture of the situation. We need a good overview to understand what we are in fo,r in order to prepare the system properly for the second wave. It is urgent that we have a clear and accurate statistical report on the number of employees who were infected,” pointed out Andrée Poirier, President of the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS).
“The very first and urgent step is to appoint prevention representatives in every workplace with all of the authority provided for in the Act respecting occupational health and safety. They shall be impartial, autonomous and have every authority to inspect and prescribe corrective action without delay. It is a very quick and effective way of getting out of the current chaos,” declared Benoît Bouchard, President of CUPE-Quebec.
“From the onset of the crisis, the health and safety committees and resources throughout the establishments had already been scaled down to a minimum. That makes no sense! We’ll now have to do a 180 and take on all kinds of prevention work. These are extremely useful means in normal times, but in a pandemic, it’s a life and death issue,” said Sylvie Nelson, President of the SQEES-FTQ.
“The first wave of COVID-19 shone the spotlight on a considerable number of shortcomings in health-care institutions. The minister herself acknowledged that increasing mobility demands arising from the creation of megastructures, the use of independent labour from private placement agencies and numerous movements of staff from one facility to another all represented vectors contributing to the spread of COVID-19. In addition to adequate equipment, the stability of health-care teams must be a priority, not only in terms of ratios but also in terms of the number of dedicated teams that will develop and consolidate the expertise required. Action must come now with no further delay.” – Claire Montour, President of the Fédération de la santé du Québec (FSQ-CSQ).
“We’re aware that there’s strong demand for PPE all over the world. However, we believe that health directives vary according to available inventory, and we have serious doubts about the effectiveness of some PPE provided to staff. It’s therefore no surprise to see so many workers become infected or even die. We even believe that employees with a compromised immune system or a chronic illness who are reassigned are in greater danger than they think,” pointed out Christian Naud, who is responsible for occupational health and safety policy with the Fédération des professionnèles (FP-CSN).